a history of
dominican music
in the united states

About the Project

A History of Dominican Music in the United States

A History of Dominican Music in the U.S. is the first open-source digital tool narrating the history of Dominican music as it developed during the past century in the United States. By presenting multi-media resources, grounded in historical contexts and speaking to larger issues of immigration, identity, and diversity, this online platform provides a new approach to understanding Dominican music.

Dominican music in the U.S. has historically served as a vehicle to bring people together in the celebration of birthdays, quinceañeras, weddings, religious faith, and holidays. But music among Dominicans goes beyond celebrations. For Dominicans, music represents really everyday life; both, the mundane, day-to-day, and the extraordinary or significant. Music is the soundtrack by which life happens; it is the glue that brings together, quasi in perfect harmony, the men who play dominoes in the park, women in beauty salons, and second-generation children, who grow up hearing their parents’ music especially on cleaning days. These practices honor traditional Dominican music and ensure it is passed on to new generations of Dominicans who preserve the legacy and/or transform it with their unique experience and the passing of time. A History of Dominican Music in the U.S. reflects both the preservation and transformation of the Dominican music cultural legacy as the group laid permanent roots in the U.S.

Calling upon the rich collection of primary-source documents housed in the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Archives and Library, the site is rigorously grounded in the existing literature. At the same time, it presents original scholarship that is unavailable elsewhere. A History of Dominican Music in the U.S. is divided into sections focusing on history, locations, musical genres, and pedagogical materials. It also presents an innovative interactive platform allowing members of the general public to contribute their own stories about Dominican music in the U.S.

1) A narrative history is divided into articles treating specific historical periods. The narratives are based on written documentation pertaining to each decade, covering from 1910 to 2010. Consequently, reconstructing the presence of Dominican artists in the U.S. with supporting evidence was much more challenging during the first two decades of the 20th century than the later decades when the Dominican people notably increased its presence in the U.S. and produced rich archival records; 

2) A map documenting historical and contemporary locations relevant to the development of Dominican music in the U.S.;

3) Genre guides describing four key musical types: merengue, bachata, Afro-Dominican music, and Dominican classical music. The guide treating merengue stresses musical structure to help people develop critical listening skills. The bachata guide focuses on lyrics due to their importance in that genre. Because Afro-Dominican music and Dominican classical music are most significant for their impacts on cultural life, identity, and diversity, the guides to these genres focus on social history; 

4) Educational profiles provide teachers and educators with pedagogical resources to create lesson plans;

5) Stories is an interactive feature allowing users to submit their own statements, anecdotes, and narratives about Dominican music in the United States. 

History is a central component of the existence of a group. Adopting the historical approach provides the spaces for examining the music’s evolution and understanding its unique characteristics in various contexts. In the first two decades of the 20th century for instance, Dominican musicians typically played in the U.S. as part of a tour or recording session and left once they fulfilled their contract, as in the case of Bienvenido Troncoso, Chita Jiménez, and Enrique García, members of Grupo Dominicano. In the 1930s, however, Dominican musicians begun to lay down roots in the U.S., as exemplified by the career of Rafael Petitón Guzmán. By the 1980s, a cadre of Dominican musicians had already been born in the U.S.; their rhythms and lyrics reflected an identity that combined Dominican and U.S. influences; Milly Quezada, Proyecto Uno, and Aventura are vivid examples of this important transformation.

The fabric of social life in the U.S. draws on the traditions and customs of people from across the globe, each offering a unique contribution to the vibrant cultural pluralism of American society. Yet, the contributions of some groups have remained excluded from the cultural narratives of mainstream society. In many cases, when these histories are told, they are perceived as isolated and are separated from larger developments in American society, irrespective of how these groups have been living in the United States. A History of Dominican Music in the United States follows the efforts of Nicolas Kanellos’s Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, an initiative that expands American literary history by recuperating and publishing lost English- and Spanish-language writings from the American colonial period to 1960. A History of Dominican Music in the U.S. mirrors Kanellos’s project by bringing to the forefront the contributions of Dominican music to U.S. musical traditions. These are musicians who, for the most part, have been excluded from mainstream narratives documenting American music. In the end, this project embeds the history of Dominican music into the history of U.S. musical traditions and into the larger cultural legacy of American society.

A History of Dominican Music in the United States documents the involvement of Dominicans in the major musical movements taking place in the city throughout the 20th century, including the Harlem Renaissance, the mambo dance craze, and the rise of salsa. Much of the history of these movements has been interpreted as unique to African Americans and Puerto Ricans, often leaving out other participants. Salsa, for instance, is a case in point. The Dominicans Johnny Pacheco, José Alberto “ El Canario,” Rey Reyes, and José Bello, stellar salseros, made their musical career by expanding the scope of the salsa genre with valiant and original contributions.

Drawing on the scholarship of historians, musicologists, and sociologists such as Tony Fletcher’s All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music from the Streets of New York, 1927-77 and Ed Morales’s The Latin Beat: the Rhythms and Roots of Latin Music from Bossa Nova to Salsa and Beyond, this project brings to light the hidden history of Dominican participation in major developments in the American musical tradition, attesting to the diverse cultural heritage that has shaped American cultural life.

We include the voices of community members, giving them primacy in the whole project. We depart from a frame of reference that recounts history exclusively from the perspective of those who produce it, in recognition of the equally valuable offerings and expertise of those who lived it. This project goes beyond interviewing musicians, record labels, and promoters. The online platform relies heavily on archival records that include an arsenal of photographs, correspondences, and a variety of memorabilia that, though personal, concretely illustrates the social life of the Dominican people in the U.S. as they settled and established themselves as a distinct community with its own legacy and aspirations.

The platform’s interactive component offers users the opportunity to submit stories and mementoes. The valorization of general audiences in the documentation of Dominican music in the U.S. builds on the work of scholars like Deborah Pacini Hernández in her now classic text Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music and on Sydney Hutchison’s pioneering Tigers of a Different Stripe: Performing Gender in Dominican Music. These scholars give voice to the everyday individuals who have a personal stake in the development of bachata or merengue típico; they also engage the many sectors of Dominican society with their relationship to an indigenous composition of rhythm and lyrics that distinctively marked Dominican culture forever. 

While some important online platforms already include Dominican music, there is no internet-based platform that is devoted to present a historical account of Dominican music in the U.S. This project, the first of its kind, then, makes a concerted effort to create a medium that is accessible to the largest audience possible, that gives primacy to knowledge about Dominican music from a historical point of view, giving users a sense of beginning and trajectory, as well as offering a content that has been carefully designed keeping an eye on its theoretical contribution as well as its pedagogical use. 

A History of Dominican Music in the U.S. builds on the work of those who deemed it important to include Dominican musical acts in their projects, despite how limited the covering may have been. We expand their scope in three ways: 1) enhancing the digital quality of the online website format, 2) enriching its interactive capabilities, and 3) presenting Dominican music in the U.S. from a historical perspective, therefore detailing its evolution like never before. We provide the public with the most extensive, technical, and thorough digital resource possible, relying on original research, archival records (many owned by CUNY DSI), and contemporary resources. Ultimately, the project at hand, shares Dominican music with diverse audiences and actively engages its users, seeking to provide a sense of history, evolution, and look towards the future, preserving Dominican music for generations to come.

A History of Dominican Music in the United States, a project of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (CUNY DSI) at the City College of New York, has been made possible in part by a Digital Project for the Public Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Division of Public Programs (www.neh.gov). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed on this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

To contact the project's staff, please write, call, fax or email the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute:
The City College of New York, North Academic Center (NAC) 4/107, 160 Convent Avenue at 138th Street, New York, NY 10031
Tel: 212-650-7496, Fax: 212-650-7489, Email: 
dsi@ccny.cuny.edu, Website: http://www.ccny.cuny.edu/dsi

© 2020 CUNY Dominican Studies Institute


Fletcher, Tony. All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music from the Streets of New York, 1927-77. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.

Hutchinson, Sydney. Tigers of a Different Stripe: Performing Gender in Dominican Music. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Morales, Ed. The Latin Beat: The Rhythms and Roots of Latin Music from Bossa Nova to Salsa and Beyond. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003.

Pacini Hernández, Deborah. Bachata: A Social History of Dominican Popular Music. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1995.

Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage. University of Houston, 2020, https://artepublicopress.com/recovery-program/