Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit Looks at Influence of Latinos in American Popular Music


Michelle Jeffers
(415) 557-4282;

June 13, 2011

Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit Looks at Influence of Latinos in American Popular Music

Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana – Image © Chad Batka
Latino musicians have had a profound influence on traditional genres of music in the United States, including jazz, rhythm and blues, rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop.  American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian, presents the musical contributions of U.S. Latinos from the 1940s to the present, exploring the social history and individual creativity that produced stars like Tito Puente, Ritchie Valens, Celia Cruz, Carlos Santana and Selena.

The exhibition will be on view Aug. 27 through Nov. 13 in the Skylight Gallery at the San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco. Developed by the Experience Music Project and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), American Sabor travels to 12 cities through 2015. The exhibition, its national tour and related programs are made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund.

“The impact of Latino musicians on American popular music moves beyond the unmistakable rhythms and dance,” said Anna R. Cohn, director of SITES. “‘American Sabor’ tells the broader story of Latino communities and how their artistry expresses their experiences as Americans.”

Conga dancing
Conga Dancing –Courtesy Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
American Sabor (sabor is the Spanish word for taste or flavor, commonly used to describe good music) documents the roles of post-World War II U.S. Latino musicians as interpreters and disseminators of Latin American genres while highlighting their innovations in various traditional U.S. genres.

The exhibition focuses on five major centers of Latino popular music production—New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio and San Francisco—that represent the remarkable diversity of this music. Each city section explores the broader histories and cultures that created the music from those areas, including how the musical innovations of Latino youths crossed ethnic and racial boundaries and helped shape American popular music, how immigration and migration influenced Latino and U.S. popular music and the ways in which Latinos have musically expressed their experiences as Americans.

Tito Puente jacket cover
Tito Puente LP Jacket Courtesy Experience Music Project
“Ford Motor Company Fund is proud to support American Sabor as part of our long-standing commitment to Hispanic arts and culture,” said Jim Vella, president, Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services. “Visitors to the exhibition will experience the many contributions that Hispanic musicians have made to American music and the richness of Latino sounds.”

With dynamic bilingual (English and Spanish) text panels, striking graphics and photographs, and compelling listening stations and films, the exhibition celebrates the true flavor, or “sabor,” of Latin music in the United States.

The exhibition is complemented by an interactive website——that includes expanded exhibition content, historic photographs, lesson plans, video oral histories from Latin music stars, a jukebox featuring a special “American Sabor” playlist and a mixing-board interactive activity.

In addition, the San Francisco Public Library will host numerous public programs from August through November related to the exhibition including an Opening Program –Aug. 27, 2011 featuring a performance by the John Santos Sextet with emcee Chelis Lopez of Rincon Literario and KPOO radio station, in the Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco. The exhibition and related programs coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month commemorative activities in the Fall. For a full list of San Francisco Public Library programs in support of American Sabor, please visit

Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES)

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for almost 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at

Experience Music Project

EMP is dedicated to the exploration of creativity and innovation in popular music. By blending interpretive, interactive exhibitions with cutting-edge technology, EMP captures and reflects the essence of rock ’n’ roll, its roots in jazz, soul, gospel, country and the blues, as well as rock’s influence on hip-hop, punk and other recent genres. Visitors can view rare artifacts and memorabilia and experience the creative process by listening to musicians tell their stories.

Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services

Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services works with community partners to advance driving safety, education and American heritage and community life.The Ford Motor Company Fund has operated for more than 60 years with ongoing funding from Ford Motor Company. For more information, visit

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