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Latino Music in Illinois 

Trailblazer of the Day | Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Victor Parra, Sones de Mexico

Music has been an essential part of Latino community life in Illinois for a century. The earliest known professional musicians may have been a 13-piece orchestra headed by Guadalupe Vera in 1917 centered around Chicago’s Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. In the 1940s, groups such as “Urbina Media y sus 16 Diablos del Mambo” and “Don Roberto and the Rumbaleros” blew the roof off of venues around the Midwest. Traditional mariachi bands have celebrated “El Grito” in Illinois for decades. Recently, Chicago honored Los Tigres del Norte and Vicente Fernández with honorary street names.

One of Illinois’ best-known and most beloved Latino musicians is Victor Parra who heads The Mambo Express, an Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble. While serving in the U.S. Army in Panama, Parra fell in love with Caribbean rhythms and bought his first conga drum. His band has been performing for 31 years and Parra has hosted radio shows on WBEZ-FM and WDCB-FM.

Only one group of Illinois musicians have ever been nominated for both a Grammy and a Latin Grammy: Sones de Mexico Ensemble Chicago. Formed in 1994, Sones de Mexico is actually a not-for-profit group dedicated to keeping traditional forms of Mexican music alive through performance and education. The band uses a wide range of sounds and instruments, including a guijada (donkey jaw) and caracól (conch shell). In 2008, Sones de Mexico was nominated for both a Latin Grammy and Grammy for their album Esta Tierra Es Tuya.