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Poncho Sánchez: 1951—: Jazz Percussionist, Vocalist

A Home Filled With Music

Though Sánchez was born on October 30, 1951, in Laredo, Texas, he grew up in Norwalk, California. Sánchez was the youngest of 11 children. He attended Grayland Avenue Elementary School. His mother, who was from the northern Mexico region of Vallecillo, Nuevo Leon, and his father, who was from Matalsas, Jalisco, also in Mexico, sang regularly in their church choir. At home there was the radio—zesty, engaging mariachi, mambo, and cumbia music played by disc jockey Chico Cesno on Los Angeles's only Latin radio station—to accompany the daily rhythms of adults and children.

Like adding ingredients to a pungent stew, Sánchez acquired dollops of musical heritage, based on the Mexican traditions of his parents. As a child, he observed his sisters dancing and lip-syncing to the Afro-Cuban beat of Machito, Tito Puente, and Cal Tjader. In this same period, a counter rhythm from the Sánchez brothers added doo-wop, rock, and rhythm and blues. On his own, Sanchez tuned into the hard bop of the Jazz Crusaders and to the era's greats—Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, and Thelonious Monk—who formed the foundation for his immersion in jazz fundamentals.

By age 12 Sánchez was on his way toward a career in music. He raised 50 cents for a guitar and practiced daily to impress the Halos, a teen R&B band that rehearsed across the street. His guitar playing remained mediocre, but in 1966 the band invited him to do their lead vocals. That same year he began playing timbales, which his father made for him, and later added the chekere. Until he reached age 17, he was the Halos' lead vocalist.

At a Glance . . .

Born Poncho Sánchez on October 30, 1951, in Laredo, Texas; married, wife's name Stella.

Career: Lead vocalist, the Halos, 1966-71; lead vocal-ist, Young Set, 1969; conguera, Cal Tjader's band, 1975-82; conguera and lead vocalist, Poncho Sanchez Latin Octet, 1980–; recording contract, Discovery, 1980-82; recording contract, Concord Picante, 1982–; filmed performance at the Biltmore Bowl, Los Angeles, CA, Cinemax, 1989.

Awards: Grammy Award, 1999, best Latin recording, for Latin Soul.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Nate Smith Biography - Fought His Way into the Union to Theodosius II BiographyPoncho Sánchez: 1951—: Jazz Percussionist, Vocalist Biography - A Home Filled With Music, Poncho And The Conga, Sánchez On His Own, Still Jammin'