Billboard is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by highlighting 14 of the most iconic musical figures in Latin music.
From Mexico’s emblematic mariachi singer Antonio Aguilar to Puerto Rico’s “voice of salsa” Hector Lavoe to Texas’ memorable “Queen of Tejano” Selena Quintanilla and beyond, check out a list of Latin music icons, their cultural relevance today, and biggest Billboard hits below:
Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, Antonio Aguilar was not only known for singing with mariachi. He often recorded songs with tamborazo — which is similar to banda — which originated in Aguilar’s native Zacatecas. His Antonio Aguilar Con Tambora albums are an homage to the style, featuring classics such as “Un Puño de Tierra,” “Por Una Mujer Casada” and “Lamberto Quintero.”
On the charts: Aguilar secured a top 20 with his second entry on Hot Latin Songs with “Por Ti No Voy a Llorar” in July 1964. Mis Número 1… Mis Tesoros earned Aguilar his highest charting title on Top Latin Albums, as the set peaked at No. 26 in Aug. 2015.
The Mexican singer-songwriter’s career was just starting when he died in a car accident, but Ariel Camacho, who placed all bets on traditional sierreño music, is cited as an inspiration to today’s hottest rising regional Mexican artists including Natanael Cano and Christian Nodal. He’s known for his corridos, including “El Karma” and his ultra-romantic track “Te Metiste”
On the charts: “Ya Lo Superé” earned Camacho his first and only entry on the Regional Mexican Airplay chart. The song peaked at No. 32 on the Step. 19-dated chart.
Active until his death, Mexican singer-songwriter Armando Manzanero penned over 400 songs and was covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Andrea Bocelli. Born in Mérida, Yucatán in 1935, Manzanero began formal music studies at the local conservatory when he was eight. A pianist by training, he began working professionally as an accompanist when he was 16 years old, and at 22, landed a job for CBS Records in Mexico. The bolero singer boasted a recognizable voice whose songs transcended genres and nationalities for over six decades.. He was honored with the Billboard Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Billboard Latin Music Awards.
On the charts: Manzanero received a 1971 Grammy nomination for song of the year for co-writing the instant standard “It’s Impossible,” which was a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for Perry Como.
Kicking off his career in the 1960s, Camilo Sesto was one of the most iconic voices in Latin pop of the ‘70s and ‘80s. His romantic repertoire included songs about unconditional love, heartbreak, and meaningful life lessons that will forever transcend generations, such as “Vivir Así es Morir de Amor,” “Melina,” and more. The Spanish crooner passed away in September 2019 at the age of 72.
On the charts: Sesto secured his first and only No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs with “Amor Mío, Qué Me Has Hecho?” as the song climbed to the top of the chart in its sixth week and led the tally for nine weeks in November 1991. With Amor Libre Sesto secured his first and only No. 1 on Top Latin Albums, which ruled for three nonconsecutive weeks in Sept. 1988.
Celia Cruz’s legacy goes beyond her hefty catalogue of anthemic salsa songs such as “Quimbara” and “Guantanamera” — the Cuban artist was among the first Afro-Latin icons to embrace her Blackness. She’s inspired a new generation of Afro-Latina artists including Amara La Negra and ChocQuibTown’s Goyo. “Celia was proud of changing her hair and singing to her Blackness,” Goyo previously told Billboard. “Celia showed me that I didn’t have to change who I was, that I could be myself.”
On the charts: “Ríe Llora” earned Cruz her first No. 1 on Tropical Airplay as the song surged 29-1 in its fourth week in 2003. It led the tally for 11 weeks and became her longest charting title. Regalo del Alma earned the artist her first and only No. 1 on Top Latin Albums, which topped the list in its second week and ruled for three consecutive weeks in August 2003.
“El Rebelde del Acordeón,” the rebel of the accordion as Celso Piña was known, popularized the “cumbia rebajada,” a fusion of Mexican cumbia with norteño sounds, ska, hip-hop and reggae. Some of his timeless cumbia songs include “Cumbia Sobre El Río,” “La Colegiala” and “Cumbia Sampuesana.”
On the charts: With his album Barrio Bravo, Piña notched his first and only entry on the Tropical Albums chart. It debuted and peaked at No. 16 in September 2016.
Considered one of the most influential figures of Latin rock, Gustavo Cerati, the late frontman of Soda Stereo, is one of those artists whose music will always be timeless. The Argentine singer, who passed away on Sept. 4, 2014, after suffering a stroke and never waking up from a subsequent coma, continuously enchants fans with his voice and unparalleled guitar skills, as heard in classics such as “Luna Roja,” “Un Misil En Mi Placard,” and “En La Ciudad de la Furia.”
On the charts: Cerati claimed his first entry on the Latin Pop Airplay chart with the top 30 “Día Especial,” which peaked at No. 26 in 2006. Fuerza Natural earned him his only entry on Top Latin Albums, which bowed and peaked at No. 53 in September 2000.
With hits such as “El Cantante,” “Periodico de Ayer” and “Mi Gente,” Hector Lavoe, remembered as “the voice of salsa,” sums up the sound of the New York salsa scene in the ’70s. The late Puerto Rican singer helped propel the popularity of the tropical genre during the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.
On the charts: Less than a year after the Hot Latin Songs chart launched in September 1986, Lavoe secured his first and only chart entry with “Plato de Segunda Mesa,” which debuted and peaked at No. 43 in May 1987. Lavoe scored his first top 10 on Top Latin Albums with his first chart entry El Cantante: The Originals, which peaked at No. 5 in August 2007.
The Mexican-American banda singer paved the way for women in the regional Mexican genre, which is, to this day, dominated by male artists. Her anthemic songs including “La Gran Señora,” “Inolvidable,” became empowering lyrics and a source of inspiration for women everywhere.
On the charts: “De Contrabando” granted Jenni Rivera her first and only No. 1 on the Regional Mexican Airplay chart, which reigned for one week in June 2006. La Misma Gran Señora granted Rivera her third No. 1 on Top Latin Albums. The album arrived at No. 1 in December 2012 and ruled for eight weeks. It became her longest charting title, remaining on the tally for 73 weeks.
Born in La Vega, Dominican Republic, Johnny Ventura kicked off his career in the early ‘60s and was coined as “El Caballo Mayor.” Some of his biggest titles include tropical hits such as “Patacon Pisao,” “¿Pitaste?” and “Merenguero Hasta la Tambora,” all of which have become staples in Latin households.
On the charts: Ventura’s timeless music has entered various Billboard charts, including Hot Latin Songs, Top Latin Albums, Tropical Airplay and Tropical Albums. From 1994 to 1998, Ventura also served as vice mayor of Santo Domingo and as mayor from 1998 to 2002.
Known as El Principe de la Canción, José José (born: José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz) was beloved across Latin America and among Hispanics in the United States. He rose to stardom in 1970 with his hit “El Triste” and other emblematic ballads such as “Almohada,” “El Amor Acaba,” and “Lo Pasado, Pasado. In 2017, the Latin American cultural icon told fans that he was battling pancreatic cancer. He passed away at the age of 71 on Sept. 28, 2019.
On the charts: “Como Tú” earned José José his third No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs, which topped the list for 10 weeks in March 1989. He earned his only top 10 on Top Latin Albums with El Principe con Trio Vol. 1, which peaked at No. 10 in March 2003.
Before successfully crossing over to pop, the Mexican singer-songwriter popularized the ranchera ballad. Often accompanied by a mariachi, some of Juan Gabriel‘s timeless classics include such as “Déjame Vivir” with Rocio Durcal, “Así Fue,” “Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez” and “Hasta Que Te Conocí.”
On the charts: “Abrázame Muy Fuerte” became Gabriel’s last No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs and his longest charting title atop the tally, with a total of nine weeks at the summit. He notched his fourth No. 1 on Top Latin Albums with Los Duo 2, his longest charting title at No. 1 with a total of 20 weeks atop the list.
Born in Madrid, Spain, Rocio Durcal kicked off her career as an actress in the 1960s and 1970s. However, she found fame as one of Mexico’s most popular folk and ranchera singers, making her big breakthrough in Latin America during the 1980s with hits such as “Costumbres,” “Como Tu Mujer,” and “Amor Eterno.” Durcal passed away at the age of 61 in 2006 after a long battle against cancer of the womb.
On the charts: Durcal scored her second chart leader with “Como Tú Mujer” which peaked at No. 1 in December 1998 and remained at the penthouse for 10 consecutive weeks. Juntos Otra Vez became Durcal’s first and only No. 1 on Top Latin Albums. The set peaked at No. 1 in its second week and ruled for two non-consecutive weeks in 1997.
Selena Quintanilla-Perez was known as the Queen of Tejano because she single-handedly revolutionized the genre, fusing her Mexican roots with bold new sounds. With her brother A.B. Quintanilla, who produced her biggest hits, and her band Los Dinos, made music on their own terms, adding a hint of pop and rock to the classic cumbia, mariachi, rancheras, and Tejano rhythms.
On the charts: “Tú Solo Tú” earned Selena her best charting title and longest No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs. The song peaked at No. 1 in its second week on the chart and ruled for 10 consecutive weeks. Selena’s Dreaming of You debuted at No. 1 on Top Latin Albums in August 1995, a few months after her death. It became the first posthumous album to debut at No. 1 on the chart. It was also the third posthumous album at that time to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200, after projects by Janis Joplin and Jim Croce, and was the first mostly Spanish-language album to debut at No. 1 and the first album by a Latin artist to debut at No. 1.