Violeta Parra

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Chilean composer, singer-songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist • 1917-1967 • Chilean Folk Music

Fast Facts

  • Violeta Parra was one of nine children born in 1917 in San Carlos (Santiago), Chile
  • Parra’s father was a music teacher who taught all of his children to sing and play guitar and her mother was a seamstress.
  • She spent much of her childhood in the countryside where she learned boleros, corridos, cuecas, rancheras, and tonadas; all of which influenced her musical voice.
  • Parra joined the Communist Party in 1948
  • She is widely known as the mother of Chilean Folk Music known as Nueva Canción (new song)
  • In addition to being a folk singer, Parra was also a composer, folklorist, painter, poet, sculpture, fiber artist weaving arpilleras or folk tapestries, and political activist.
  • She was the first Latin American Artist to have their work featured in the Louvre in France in 1964. 
  • Parra’s Nueva Canción was a statement advocating for the socially, economically and politically marginalized peoples of Latin America.
  • She compiled over 3,000 songs and recorded 11 albums while living with 16 albums released posthumously.
  • She suffered from depression and sadly committed suicide at the age of 49 in Santiago, Chile.

Pete Seeger

Picture By Josef SCHWARZ – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

American Folk Singer and Activist • 1919-2014Folk Music

Fast Facts

  • Pete’s first group was “The Almanac Singers” with Woody Guthrie. They played throughout Mexico and the United States, supporting worker’s rights!
  • Pete was married for 69 Years! His wife, Toshi, was a great help to his life and career.
  • Pete and his family lived in a log cabin near the Hudson River in New York.  Pete helped clean up the Hudson River.
  • Pete won three Grammy awards and the Kennedy Center Honors Award.
  • Pete performed at President Obama’s 1st Inauguration.
  • Pete is in the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
  • Pete said: “Singing with children in the schools has been the most rewarding experience of my life.” – Seeger, October 17, 2009, at community concert in Beacon, New York

Willie Colón

florian schneider from New York / CC BY (

American Trombonist, Singer, Producer, and Activist • Born 1950 • Salsa Music

Fast Facts

  • Born in the South Bronx, New York City
  • Parents were from Puerto Rico
  • Began playing trumpet at a young age then switched to TROMBONE
  • Colón has been a civil rights, community and political activist since the age of 16
  • Mr. Colón’s work incorporates the rhythms of traditional music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and “that ‘other’ ancestral homeland, Africa”
  • Best known for playing SALSA
  • In 1999, Colón was a member of the Jubilee 2000 Delegation to the Vatican along with Randolph Robinson of Trans Africa, Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, Bono from U2 and Quincy Jones.  This work helped to forgive third world debt.
  • In September 2004, Colón received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences

Freddie Mercury

Picture Credit: Carl Lenderderivative, Freddie_Mercury_performing_in_New_Haven,_CT,_November_1978.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

British Rock Singer, Songwriter, and Producer • 1946-1991

Fast Facts

  • Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar to Parsi parents from India.
  • His birth name was Farrokh Bulsara. 
  • Freddie spent most of his childhood in India, where he began taking piano lessons at age 7.
  • At age 12, he formed a school band called “The Hectics.”
  • In 1963, when Freddie was 17, his family escaped political violence in Zanzibar and emigrated to Middlesex, England. 
  • After working a series of odd-jobs, he eventually met musicians that would form a rock band called “Queen.”
  • The most notable aspect of his songwriting are the wide ranges of genres that he used which included, among others, rockabilly, progressive rock, heavy metal, gospel, and disco. 
  • Mercury wrote many of Queen’s most famous songs including “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are the Champions.” These two songs have both been voted as “the greatest song of all time” in major polls by Sony Ericcson and Guinness Book of World Records, and both songs have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. 
  • Queen has been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and The UK Music Hall of Fame. They have received the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection, and in 2018 were presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Tito Puente

Kingkongphoto & from Laurel  Maryland, USA / CC BY-SA (

American Composer, Conductor, and Percussionist • 1923-2000
The King of Latin JazzEl Rey de los Timbales

Fast Facts

  • Tito Puente was a musical pioneer who fused jazz with Latinx styles like mambo, cha-cha, salsa, merengue, and more.
  • His parents came from Puerto Rico.
  • He was born Ernesto Antonio Puente, Jr. 
  • He grew up in Spanish Harlem in NYC.
  • He attended the Julliard School of Music.
  • He won 5 Grammys.
  • His timbales are now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Cesária Évora

By Foto: Silvio Tanaka – flickr: Cesária Évora, CC BY-SA 2.0,

1941-2011 • Cape Verdean Popular Singer

Fast Facts

  • She was known as the “Barefoot Diva” as she always performed without shoes.
  • Cesária grew up in poverty and was raised in an orphanage.  
  • She recorded her first record at the age of 47 and became world-wide famous at the age of 50.
  • Cesária Évora’s music was in a style called morna which is sung in taverns on the Cape Verde islands.
  • Morna ballads are in minor keys and their main themes are love, loss, poverty and immigration. 
  • Morna ballads combine musical elements from West Africa, Portugal, Brazil and Great Britain.
  • Cesária Évora loved her country’s rich musical heritage and, thanks to her international fame, she brought it to the world’s attention.

Evelyn Glennie

Photo by Phillipp Rathmer, 2015. Used with permission from 

Scottish Percussionist • Born 1965 • Classical Music

Fast Facts

Dame Evelyn Glennie…

  • Is the first full-time classical solo percussionist in the world
  • Won 2 Grammy Awards
  • Has recorded 30 CDs
  • Performed at the 2012 Olympics
  • Gives 100+ performances per year all over the world
  • Has received over 100 international awards
  • Attended the Royal Academy of Music in London
  • Received Damehood in 2007, awarded by the British Queen
  • Is featured in the 2004 film Touch the Sound
  • Owns over 2,000 instruments
  • Has been profoundly deaf since age 12
  • Often performs barefoot in order to feel sound vibrations

Audra McDonald

Musical Theatre Singer and Actor
July 3, 1970

Fast Facts

  • Audra McDonald was born in Berlin, Germany and raised in Fresno, California.
  • At age 9, she started taking voice lessons and performing at a local dinner theatre.
  • In 1988, She graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Fresno and went on to study classical singing at The Juilliard School in New York City, graduating in 1993.
  • One year after graduating, she earned a Tony Award for her role in the musical Carousel.
  • By age 28, she had earned 3 Tony Awards, becoming the youngest actress ever to do so.
  • Today, Audra McDonald has 6 Tony Awards and is the only performer to have earned awards in each of the four main acting categories (Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.)
  • In 2015, She was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people.
  • Outside of performing, She is a passionate advocate for equal rights and homeless youth.

Celia Cruz

Cuban Singer
October 21, 1925 – July 16, 2003 • Salsa, Guaracha, Rumba, Afro, Son and Bolero

Fast Facts

  • Cuban singer of Latin music.
  • One of the eldest among fourteen children, and she used to sing cradle songs to put them to sleep.
  • According to her mother, she began singing as a child at 9 or 10 months of age, often in the middle of the night.
  • The most popular Latin artist of the 20th century, she earned twenty-three gold albums and was a recipient of the National Medal of Arts.
  • Throughout her career, she was awarded numerous prizes and distinctions, including two Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards.
  • Renowned internationally as the “Queen of Salsa”, “La Guarachera de Cuba”, as well as “The Queen of Latin Music.”
  • While growing up in Cuba’s diverse 1930s musical climate, Cruz listened to many musicians who influenced her adult career, including Fernando Collazo, Abelardo Barroso, Pablo Quevedo and Arsenio Rodríguez.

Gustavo Dudamel

Orchestra Conductor, Violinist and Composer
Born 1981 • Venezuelan Conductor

Fast Facts

  • Gustavo Dudamel is one of the most famous conductors in the world, renowned for the energy he brings to live performance.
  • He is the son of a trombonist and a voice teacher.
  • He studied music from an early age, becoming involved with El Sistema, and took up the violin at age ten.
  • He began to study conducting in 1995; in 1999, he became Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar, the national youth orchestra of Venezuela.
  • Dudamel was the first classical musician to participate with the YOLA in the 2016 Super Bowl Half Time Show alongside pop stars Beyoncé, Bruno Mars and Coldplay.
  • He gained international fame in 2004, when he won the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition. Since then he has won many awards and conducted some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras.
  • Gustavo Dudamel is driven by the belief that music has the power to transform lives, to inspire, and to change the world. 
  • In 2012 he launched The Gustavo Dudamel Foundation with the goal of promoting access to music as a human right and a catalyst for social change.