7 Chicano Heroes of Rock and Roll

In several ways, Latinos have been instrumental in adding to, and evolving, American things

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Heinrich Klaffs

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Heinrich Klaffs

In several ways, Latinos have been instrumental in adding to, and evolving, American things. Rock and roll is no exception. Whether it’s adding a Latin sound to a classic genre, or simply rocking out, while standing out, the following Chicanos made Latinos a part of the eternal list of Rock and Roll greats.

We love all of them, so much so, that we created a playlist on Spotify.

Richie Valens

Born Richard Steven Valenzuela, Ritchie Valens, like many Latino artists during the 1950s (and before), was encouraged to Anglicize his name for better marketability (and because of racism, to be honest). It’s even more special, then, that Ritchie’s biggest song is the very Mexican “La Bamba,” adapted from a Mexican folk song. Other legendary songs in Ritchie’s eight month career include “Donna,” and “Come On, Let’s Go.”


Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs was a band fronted by Domingo “Sam” Samudio, also consisting of Omar “Big Man Lopez,” Vincent Lopez, Carl Miedke, and Russell Fowler. They had major success with their hit “Wooly Bully,” which reached #2, and stayed on the Hot 100 chart for 18 weeks. The song mixed Mexican conjunto with rock and pop to create a unique sound. “Wooly Bully” became Record of the Year for Billboard, and the best-selling song of the year, even though it never made it to number one.


Danny Flores of The Champs

The name The Champs might not automatically ring a bell, but the band’s song “Tequila” definitely will. It hit number one, and won the 1959 Grammy for Best R&B Performance. The song was written by Danny Flores, a.k.a. Chuck Rio, who is known as the “Godfather of Latino Rock.”


? and the Mysterians

Michigan garage rock band ? and the Mysterians had a bit hit with “96 Tears.” The members, including lead singer ?, a.k.a. Rudy Martinez and his brother Robert, were the children of Mexican migrant farmers.


Carlos Santana

There is probably no bigger Latino rockstar than Carlos Santana. Born in Jalisco, but raised in San Francisco’s Mission District, Santana fronted his namesake band, mixing Latin and African sounds, rock, jazz, blues, to create something fresh. He is also known for his guitar skills, and being an integral part of the Latin Explosion of the late 1990s as a solo artist.


Linda Ronstadt

Mexican-American Linda Maria Ronstadt has won 11 Grammy Awards, and has sung in a variety of genres, including rock, country, and mariachi. Ronstadt was arguably the top female artist of the 1970s, with hits including “You’re No Good” and “Blue Bayou.”




Carlos Santana’s brother, Jorge Santana, fronted the band Malo, along with Arcelio Garcia. The San Francisco-based band infused Latin influence into their sound. Their hit, “Suavecito,” has even been referred to as the Chicano National Anthem.

In this Article

Chicano culture heroes icons latina legends leyendas music Musica rock Rock and Roll
More on this topic