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New York and the International Sound of Latin Music, 1940-1990

New York and the International Sound of Latin Music, 1940-1990

By Benjamin Lapidus
Series: American Made Music Series

Hardcover : 9781496831286, 440 pages, 61 b&w illustrations; 27 musical examples, December 2020
Paperback : 9781496831293, 440 pages, 61 b&w illustrations; 27 musical examples, December 2020

An assessment, celebration, and careful notation of the extraordinary melting pot of Latin music


New York City has long been a generative nexus for the transnational Latin music scene. Currently, there is no other place in the Americas where such large numbers of people from throughout the Caribbean come together to make music. In this book, Benjamin Lapidus seeks to recognize all of those musicians under one mighty musical sound, especially those who have historically gone unnoticed.

Based on archival research, oral histories, interviews, and musicological analysis, Lapidus examines how interethnic collaboration among musicians, composers, dancers, instrument builders, and music teachers in New York City set a standard for the study, creation, performance, and innovation of Latin music. Musicians specializing in Spanish Caribbean music in New York cultivated a sound that was grounded in tradition, including classical, jazz, and Spanish Caribbean folkloric music. For the first time, Lapidus studies this sound in detail and in its context. He offers a fresh understanding of how musicians made and formally transmitted Spanish Caribbean popular music in New York City from 1940 to 1990.

Without diminishing the historical facts of segregation and racism the musicians experienced, Lapidus treats music as a unifying force. By giving recognition to those musicians who helped bridge the gap between cultural and musical backgrounds, he recognizes the impact of entire ethnic groups who helped change music in New York. The study of these individual musicians through interviews and musical transcriptions helps to characterize the specific and identifiable New York City Latin music aesthetic that has come to be emulated internationally.


"I had been waiting a long time for a comprehensive historical assessment of New York as the capital of Latin music in the mid-twentieth century. Benjamin Lapidus far exceeds expectations. His multilayered portrait is ambitious, meticulous, surprising, and a delight to read. Bravissimo!"

- Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College

"In the enormous casserole that Lapidus uses to present this history, he does not forget an ingredient that many other authors leave out: women. And this musical chef, Lapidus, presents it in exquisite form. Enjoy it, bon appétit!"

- Dr. Cristóbal Díaz Ayala, namesake of the Cristóbal Díaz Ayala Collection of Cuban and Latin American music at Florida International University

"The result is a comprehensive assessment of New York as the capital of Latin music from 1940 to 1990, as told by an active participant and an eyewitness. "

- Tomas Peña, JazzDeLaPena

"New York and the International Sound of Latin Music, 1940-1990 is an important foundation for such endeavors and should inspire historians to think about how Gotham’s diverse population helped shape 20th-century musical traditions that were simultaneously American and Latinx. "

- Matthew Pessar Joseph, Gotham: A Blog for Scholars of New York City History

"There are very few books that document the origin and development of Latin music in the US. This work is of tremendous importance because it illustrates many unknown facts about Latin musicians’ identities and contributions to the Latin and jazz genres that would have continued to be ignored, if not rescued by Ben Lapidus and his reporting. The book is obligatory reading, and I fully recommend it. "

- Rubén Blades, Panamanian musician, singer, composer, actor, activist, and politician

"Based on extended interviews and incorporating insightful musical analysis, the author explores an array of fascinating topics: the history of Latin music pedagogy, the history of instrument makers and innovators, the contributions of Panamanian and Jewish musicians, the influence of female musicians and entrepreneurs, and the impact of the Mariel exodus on performance, to name only a few. "

- Robin D. Moore, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Texas at Austin

"Lapidus’s book is a much-needed detailed history of Latin dance music’s storied place in New York City, giving the reader unique insights into the complexities and richness of the history of this music. "

- David F. Garcia, author of Listening for Africa: Freedom, Modernity, and the Logic of Black Music’s African Origins

"A major achievement, this book exuberantly shares with its readers the richness of music making during an extraordinarily fecund period of New York City's history. "

- Jairo Moreno, author of Musical Representations, Subjects, and Objects: The Construction of Musical Thought in Zarlino, Descartes, Rameau, and Weber

"Highly recommended."

- N. Santana, CHOICE