The Labels

The early efforts of major labels like Victor, Columbia, and Edison in Mexico City to record and sell Mexican music were interrupted in 1910 by the Mexican Revolution. Before long, they discovered that there was a wealth of talented Mexican singers available to them in the U.S. When electric portable equipment was introduced in 1927, the major labels began recording regional singers and musicians in cities like El Paso, San Antonio, and Los Angeles. These singers sang about the Mexican Revolution and its heroes, and (increasingly) about the challenges they faced as immigrants north of the border. Back in Mexico, the recording industry finally grew into its own during World War II. Movies and records gave birth to the first superstars of Ranchera music, none bigger than Pedro Infante.

When the major label recording industry came to a halt due to World War II, small and independent record labels began to fill the void. Having a steady supply of musicians from Texas and Mexico as well as ample homegrown talent, the California labels began to develop a distinctive brand of Spanish language popular music. The ubiquitous sinfonolas (jukeboxes) and home phonographs brought these labels into the houses and gathering places of California’s Mexican American community. In the process, many California artists gained wider commercial attention beginning in the 1940s.

The 1940s were a lucrative time for California’s regional Mexican labels, whose success allowed many California-based artists to gain greater market and radio attention. By the mid-1950s, however, the labels began to face greater competition from Mexican imports, and the golden age of the California regional labels began to decline.