Today, women are more in control of their careers in the music industry but that wasn’t always the case. There were many women that paved the the way by taking the reins of their career including Celia Cruz and Selena. Women like triple threat Jennifer Lopez prove that there are no limits and that any goal is achievable if you put in the effort. We’ve rounded up 10 of the most iconic and influential Latina artists that achieved massive success and made their mark in the music industry. While this list is not exhaustive, these Latinas are undeniably changemakers and poderosas who have impacted millions with their music. Here are 10 Latinas in music to honor this Women’s History Month and all year long.
Cuban powerhouse Celia Cruz is the “Queen of Salsa” and also known in her beloved homeland as the “La Guarachera de Cuba”. She was born in Havana, Cuba in 1925 and passed away in 2003 at the age of 77 and the impact she made in music is still evident today. She released dozens of albums and was recognized with many honors and awards, including twenty-three gold albums, three Grammy Awards, four Latin Grammy Awards, and the President’s National Medal of Arts. Not only did she popularize salsa music in the United States but her 60 years in the business showed the world that women could do salsa and sing salsa. She gave other women the strength to be in the music industry and provided them with endless possibilities that what a woman decides to do, she can do. Talk about ¡Azúcar!
Milly Quezada is a Dominican Merengue music singer known as the “Merengue Queen” who has won four Latin Grammy awards, the ASCAP Latin Heritage Award, Billboard Awards, and several others. She originally started off in a group called “Milly Jocelyn & Los Vecinos” with a distinctly feminist style of Merengue that spoke to the growing Dominican community in Washington Heights, New York City where she grew up. Quezada went solo in the ’90s with hits like “Lo tengo todo”, “Entre tu cuerpo y el mio”, “Porque me amaste”, and many others. She released her latest album, Milly & Company, in 2019.
Gloria Estefan is a Cuban-American singer, songwriter, actress, and entrepreneur as well as the host of Red Table Talk: The Estefans with her niece, Lili Estefan, and daughter, Emily. Her career started when she was the lead singer in the group Miami Latin Boys, which later became known as the Miami Sound Machine. In 1985 she achieved worldwide success with “Conga,” which has since become her signature song. She has won three Latin Grammy Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to American music. On March 14, 2019, she and her husband Emilio were awarded the 2019 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. They are the first married couple and first of Latin American descent to receive the prize. She most recently guest starred in the former Netflix series, One Day at a Time, a sitcom about a Cuban American family.
Selena continues to be one of the biggest names in music more than two decades after her tragic death at the age of 23 in 1995. She is one of the most celebrated Mexican-American entertainers of the late 20th century and is known as the “Queen of Tejano Music.” Her career began in 1981 as a member of the band, Selena y Los Dinos alongside her siblings AJ and Suzette. Because Tejano music was a male dominated genre, Selena was often refused bookings at various venues across Texas but that didn’t stop her. In 1994 she became the first recording female Tejano artist to win at the 1994 Grammy Awards. Her album Amor Prohibido opened the doors for Tejano music and became one of the most popular Latin music subgenres at the time. Along with the biopic Selena starring Jennifer Lopez, her family collaborated with Netflix to release Selena: The Series introducing younger audiences to the beloved icon.
Ivy Queen, aka the Queen of Reggaeton, is a Puerto Rican singer, songwriter, rapper, actress, and record producer. She was literally the first lady of reggaeton and her music often reflects female empowerment, infidelity, and relationships. She often talks about her roots as an underground reggaetonera and how she would play her music from the trunk of a car. When she started out on the music scene reggaeton didn’t exist, it was Spanish rap and reggae. She has made it known that Celia Cruz is responsible for inspiring her to write her own music and she credits the LBGTQ community for bringing her much success. Her confidence radiates in her performances and although she has been surrounded by men for most of her career, she is the one calling all the shots.
Colombian singer/songwriter/hip shaker Shakira, 44, made her recording debut at the age of 13 and had a mega successful career in Latin American. Her Spanish albums Pies Descalzos (1995) and Dónde Están los Ladrones? (1998) were mega successful and she went onto found the Pies Descalzos Foundation, a charity with special schools for poor children all around Colombia. In 2001 she released her first English-language album, Laundry Service, which ended up selling over 13 million copies worldwide. Because of her hit single “Whenever, Wherever,” she became one of the leading crossover artists of the decade. She remains one of the best-selling female Latin artists of all time.
Jenni Rivera, aka the Diva de Banda, was known her music in the styles of Banda, Mariachi, and Norteño. In the early 2000s, she rose to fame with her album Parrandera, Rebelde y Atrevida and Billboard named her the “best selling Latin artist” of 2013. Her popularity spiked after she won the Lo Nuestro Award for Regional Mexican Female Artist of the Year in 2007. Although she tragically passed away in a plane crash, her influence has not slowed down. Her music continues to challenge old-school thinking and machismo within the genre with now her daughter Chiquis is carrying on her legacy as a Banda singer.
Colombian singer Margarita Vargas is La Diosa de la Cumbia, who started her career recording jingles for radio and television. It was during that time that Victor Nanni, the musical producer of La Sonora Dinamita, heard her voice and and decided he wanted her for the group. Hits like “OYE,” “La Maleta,” and “La Cumbia del Sida” allowed her to achieve massive success. After six years of being part of the group, she decided to form her own group which is now known as Sonora de Margarita. In 2012 she was awarded the Knight Degree by the Senate of Colombia for her effort to expand Colombian culture abroad, mainly in Mexico. She opened the doors for women in this music genre and created songs that were inspired by the beauty of Mexico.
Flor de Toloache
Latin Grammy award winning group Flor de Toloache made history as New York City’s first and only all-women mariachi group. The group was founded in 2008 by lead singers Mireya Ramos and Shae Fiol and was originally started as a trio but have since expanded to represent diverse cultural backgrounds from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Australia, Colombia, Germany, Italy, and the United States. Their goal is to preserve centuries of old traditions of Mariachi while modernizing the genre and bring the music to new audiences. Though they haven’t been around for as long as the other artists in this list, there’s no denying they’re paving the way and major changemakers.
Jennifer Lopez, what hasn’t she done? The singer, actress, and dancer has been killing the game for the past decade. She started out as a Fly Girl on the television show In Living Color and had her breakout role as Selena Quintanilla in the movie, Selena in 1997. Her career was just starting but she already made history as the first Latina to earn $1 million for a movie role. JLo ventured into the music industry in 1999 with her debut album On the 6, which boosted the Latin pop movement in American music alongside Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony (who would later become her third husband). Now she’s an established singer with eight albums under her belt and dozens of movies including Hustlers (2019) which she starred in and received a Golden Globe nomination for. She’s also been awarded the Billboard Icon Award and she performed alongside Shakira for the Super Bowl in 2020, the first time two Latinas performed together on that stage. She performed during the Biden/Harris inauguration and is also co-starring in a rom-com with sex symbol Maluma so even at 50 she shows no signs of stopping.