Hispanic-American Country Music Artists Discuss the Direction of the Genre

By 2030, Spanish-American icon Freddy Fender could be a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. There could also be more than five Hispanic acts with No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Country Airplay or Americana Radio Singles chart.

The cause? The democratization of the country and American music environment through social media, streaming, and cultural evolution has allowed Hispanic artists to gain unprecedented national and global recognition.

Country artist Valerie Ponzio, Tex-Mex/Americana performer Veronique Medrano, Frank Ray and his manager Oscar Chavira, and Kat & Alex (Alex “Alex Georgia” Garrido and Kat Luna) represent an ever-widening landscape for Hispanic artists from Music City.

They’re also “feeling the pressure” associated with future potential, says Georgia, a native of Puerto Rico.

Mexican American artist Ponzio says spotlighting the creativity of marginalized people led her to cover Selena’s 1995 classic “I Could Fall In Love” on her just-released “Frontera” EP. She notes that it was written by Grammy-winning Nashville-based songwriter Keith Thomas, and says that’s a key caveat not only in the history of this song, but also in reviving generational ties between Hispanic artists and country stardom.

The mid-1970s saw Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez exert a strong hold on South Texas on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs charts. The hits of the first “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”, as well as “You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me)” and “Ridin’ My Thumb to Mexico” of the second are considered canonical pieces of the country of the 70s. traditions.

Additionally, Tucson, Arizona native Linda Ronstadt’s 1975 cover of the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved” and the 1977 classic “Blue Bayou” extended Hispanic reach to the top of the country charts.

It wasn’t until 1996 with the release of Hispanic country artist Rick Trevino’s “Running Out of Reasons to Run” or Tejano legend Selena’s “I Could Fall in Love” that the reach of Hispanic acts took off. again landed at the top of the country’s countdowns.

Singer Frank Ray performs on the Next From Nashville stage during the Watershed Country Music Festival at the Gorge Amphitheater on July 31, 2022 in George, Washington.  (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)

Today, New Mexico native Frank Ray’s single “Country’d Look Good on You” has achieved Top 20 success on country radio. He says he wants to “take the opportunity” his success presents him as a label-signed artist with a series of scheduled dates nationwide to “continue to represent himself and the [Hispanic culture].”

The idea that his success is built on the strength of his music and is augmented by his legacy highlights a “reformatted model of success” for Hispanics nationwide. Ray says it’s a “progressive” that allows Hispanic artists more creative control over their presentation than they’ve likely ever had in the country music mainstream.

Country music singer Frank Ray poses for a portrait in Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday, August 2, 2022.

Ray notes that he and his manager – Oscar Chavira, born in El Paso, Texas – share a common phrase and an indifferent attitude when considering and achieving success from a marginalized perspective:

” Why not us ?

Moments like Ray’s current success are rare. In its place, a stream of two-decade songs like Luke Bryan’s “One Margarita” and Kenny Chesney’s “Beer in Mexico” represent the genre’s most popular acknowledgments of Hispanic culture’s influence in country music.

The 2021 signing of New Mexico-born singer Frank Ray to Stoney Creek Records also highlights his manager Oscar Chavira representing one of the few managers of Hispanic-American artists in mainstream country music.

In a 2021 Los Angeles Times article, Leah Turner – whose 2013 hit “Take the Keys” reached No. 37 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart – said, “Latin culture and country music culture are reflect 100% There is faith, there is family, there is hard work, there is passion, and we all know Latinos and country music [fans like] to drink. My dream is for cowboys and vaqueros – the first cowboys – to be in the same place, to bring these two worlds together.”

Along those same lines, Kat and Alex — originally hailed as a duo by Bryan on 2020’s “American Idol” — openly discuss the awkwardly authentic and seemingly incongruous path many white country artists take to connect with the hispanic culture.

“Yeah, it’s deeper than tacos and Cinco de Mayo,” Georgia says. “But you can’t say either that Kenny Chesney’s ‘No Shoes Nation’ fan club has millions of supporters and that he genuinely loves Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It’s great that he loves what he loves it. However, there are probably a million other people we can find who love other aspects of Hispanic culture who, given the opportunity, could also be Kat and Alex fans.”

Alex de Kat and Alex in a Broadcast Music Inc conference room in Nashville, Tennessee on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

Ponzio makes an intriguing connection to the film industry and representation, noting Salma Hayek’s unmistakably Hispanic presentation of herself in breakthrough late ’90s roles in films like “Fools Rush In” and “Breaking Up.” alongside white actors like Matthew Perry and Russell Crowe.

“Yeah, tequila songs are fun, and that’s okay,” Ponzio says. “But letting the people whose heritage is often directly referenced by these songs express them with their culture, their history and their history as an influence doesn’t take away any fun from these songs. However, these perspectives could add more depth and reach via representation.”

Over the past decade, however, research from the Country Music Association shows a resurgence in a progression of Hispanic aspirations for the genre.

Singer Veronique Medrano attends the 14th Annual Hola Mexico Film Festival Opening Night Gala at Montalban Theater on October 02, 2022 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

Brownsville, Texas-based Veronique Medrano sees the potential of Fender’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame as allowing artists like her to shed some of the “hard skin” they’ve had to assume to navigate the mainstream of predominantly white and often dismissive country music.

Her “genuine, authentic story” of growing up in South Texas, making music with Hispanic heritage as a “tall, brunette Amazonian woman”, bears similarities to Fender’s work as an outsider navigating unprecedented roads to stardom.

Marginalization didn’t stop Fender, and for Medrano’s growing fame as a Tex-Mex artist, she aspires one day to achieve levels of crossover success similar to Fender’s. In Medrano’s view, Fender’s six-decade-long history demands inclusion in a very elite group of musicians.

The Country Music Association reported that two out of five Hispanic millennials regularly listen to country music, and seven out of 10 Hispanics listen to country music often.

Overall support for increased Hispanic representation in country music will require intersectionality that reflects the Spanish language and its understanding for Americans in general.

On Kat & Alex’s current release of “Side A/Lado B,” the married duo added a “Spanish version” of their single “I Want It All.” Added elements of the Spanish version of the song (“Yo Quiero Amarte”). Luna says that since she and her husband have spoken Spanish since childhood, “creating while having fun” should include bilingual song presentations.

Ponzio also isn’t shy about pointing out the “magical” impact social media has had on building a strong community among black, Hispanic, and gender-marginalized women. Notably, Ponzio is a member of CMT’s premier Equal Access Development Program, which provides funding, training, support and access to services from the New York and Nashville-based Mtheory management group to help navigate the world. country music industry.

Artists interviewed by The Tennessean were highlighted through African-American country artist Rissi Palmer’s “Color Me Country” program and the Artist Fellowship. The program was launched alongside the Rainey Day Fund to provide $1,000 microgrants to artists of color, artists with disabilities, and artists from the LGBTQ community.

Additionally, chasing viral TikTok trends may seem to be at the heart of the best work done by Hispanic artists in country music and related spaces. Kat and Alex (who have around 550,000 TikTok followers) are aware of how, over the past two decades, direct-to-fan marketing has evolved from being seen on a slew of TV networks to TV and to the melting of the Internet in the blink of an eye. fingers anywhere, anytime.

“Content connecting with fans on a person-to-person level [not direct-to-fan] develops stronger supporters,” says Luna.

When considering the potential impact of this development, conversations about the resurgence of reggaeton into a dominant American mainstream pop genre over the past decade are commonplace.

Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” collaboration with Justin Bieber, Beyoncé’s remix of J Balvin’s “Mi Gente”, Bad Bunny’s collaborations with Cardi B, Drake and even Madonna recently teaming up with Dominican rapper Tokischa – as well as the growing popularity of Spotify’s Viva Latino playlist – are significant.

George Strait noted the December 2021 death of Mexican ranchera icon Vicente Fernández as the death of “one of [his] heroes.” The progressions show that a trend reversal reflecting the crossover trends from pop to country music seems achievable.

“With a bit of luck, [this blueprint] will give [Hispanic] artists desiring greater exposure in country music the grace and ability to do what they want to do, on their own terms,” says Medrano.

In full, the impact of succeeding in the establishment stages of Hispanic-American growth in country music and related genres is best summed up by an impassioned statement from Alex Georgia:

“Negative words or symbols in mainstream country music shouldn’t sway who you are on the inside,” he says. “Be proud of that. There’s only one version of you and no one can replace it. If you’re that person, Hispanic, and you want to be an artist – more often than not, because yes, there’s There are still ‘bad apples’ here – now you have a place like that to be seen and heard as a real, authentic person. Be who you are. Don’t hide behind anyone or anything.”