Jimmy Smits Is Set To Narrate The Latin Music USA Documentary Series, Airs 10/12, 10/19

By: Oct. 12, 2009

Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor Jimmy Smits will narrate Latin Music USA - a four-hour documentary series scheduled to broadcast in primetime over two consecutive Mondays, October 12 and 19 during Hispanic Heritage Month (9:00-11:00 p.m. check local listings) on PBS. Latin Music USA is a story about American music, reaching across time and across musical genres to embrace the exciting hybrid sounds created by Latinos - fusions that have deeply enriched popular music in the US for more than five decades.

As part of the project's multimedia and multicultural approach, Latin Music USA has partnered with the Spanish TV network V-me to premiere the series on two consecutive Tuesdays, October 13th and 20th at 10 p.m., fully translated and narrated in Spanish by Leila Cobo, one of the world's foremost experts in contemporary Latin music.

Produced by WGBH and the BBC, the documentary series anchors a comprehensive, multimedia project - on air, online, in print and in the community -- exploring the vibrant musical conversations between Latinos and non-Latinos that have helped shape the history of popular music in the United States. Smits, who is perhaps best known for his long-running roles on L.A. Law and NYPD Blue, will narrate the English language version of the series. All of the project's media platforms will be in both English and Spanish.

"We are thrilled that Jimmy Smits will narrate Latin Music USA," says Executive Producer Elizabeth Deane. "His warmth, Latino heritage and genuine passion for the topics explored by the series make him an ideal choice -- and the perfect ambassador for the project."

"To be involved with a project of this scope and magnitude that explores a subject so close to my heart is incredible," says Smits. "I am so pleased to be the voice of this remarkable documentary series that I believe will educate so many about the breadth and impact of Latin music in this country."

Recognizing the need for a Los Angeles destination for Latin music, Smits became a co-owner, along with Brad Gluckstein, Jennifer López, Sheila E. and Paul Rodríguez, of The Conga Room, a popular music and dance venue, which became an instant success and has been referred to as The House of Blues for Latin Music. In 2008, The Conga Room relocated to its present location @ LA Live, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

Smits starred in the 1995 feature film My Family/Mi Familia, a multigenerational story of a Chicano family, and is no stranger to the influence Latin music has had on American culture and music. Though born in New York, Smits spent a great deal of time in Puerto Rico during his childhood and has deep Puerto Rican roots.

Smits also played the role of a congressman who became the President of the United States in the final two seasons of the drama series The West Wing, for which he won an Alma Award in 1999. He served as Executive Producer of his next series, Cane, in which he also starred. His producing role enabled him to integrate his musical influences into the series while introducing viewers to new Latin musical talent. Smits most recently received critical acclaim for his chilling performance in season three of the Showtime series Dexter.

Leila Cobo will narrate the Spanish-language adaptation of Latin Music USA on V-me, the fastest growing Hispanic TV network in the United States. The Spanish-language, 24-hour, digital broadcast service is presented over-the-air by nearly 40 affiliate PBS stations and is also carried on basic cable in major markets and nationally via satellite.

Aside from heading Latin endeavors for Billboard, as executive director of Latin content and programming, Cobo has written liner notes for many top Latin recording artists, including Shakira, Ricky Martin, Julio Iglesias and Chayanne. As host of Estudio Billboard, on V-me, she has conducted in-depth interviews with critically acclaimed and influential Latin artists including Juanes, Maná, Juan Luis Guerra and Gloria Estefan. Cobo is regularly sought out as an expert by a broad variety of media, from the BBC and CNN to The New York Times and The Washington Post, and has served as pop music critic for the Miami Herald

Originally from Colombia, Cobo is a Fulbright scholar and graduated with degrees in journalism and piano performance from Manhattan School of Music. She is also a fiction writer and her first novel, Tell Me Something True, will be published this fall by Grand Central Publishing. She is at work on her second book, to be published in 2010.

In addition to the broadcast partnership with V-me, which will place Latin Music USA before an even broader audience, Latin Music USA has extended its reach to various communities through several strategic partnerships. The project has developed a multiplatform brand partnership with People en Español, the top-selling Hispanic magazine in the United States, and its Web site peopleenespanol.com. People en Español will create exclusive Latin Music USA editorial and promotional features and content that will give visitors and readers a sneak peek at interviews and concert footage from the series.

Latin Music USA is a story about American music. Fusions of Latin sounds with jazz, rock, country, rhythm and blues - music with deeper roots and broader reach than most people realize. Latin Music USA features the memorable stories of artists including among others, Salsa greats Willie Colón and Marc Anthony; the Latin-inflected sounds found in much of sixties rock and roll from the Drifters to Motown to the Rolling Stones; Carlos Santana; the legendary Chicano rock band Los Lobos; megastars Gloria and Emilio Estefan; Ricky Martin and Juanes; reggaeton performers Daddy Yankee and Tego Calderón; and Lin-Manuel Miranda from the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights. The life experiences of these and many other unforgettable artists will reveal how Latinos have reinvented their music in the United States and forged new identities within this country, while never losing sight of their own rich traditions.

Comprised of four 60-minute episodes, the documentary series features a fast-paced mix of music and interviews:

· Episode One, BRIDGES: The first program traces the rise of Latin jazz and the explosion of the mambo and the cha cha cha as they sweep the U.S. from East to West. Latin music infiltrates R&B and rock and roll through the 1960s.

· Episode Two, THE SALSA REVOLUTION: Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in New York reinvent the Cuban son and the Puerto Rican plena, adding elements from soul and jazz to create Salsa, which becomes a defining rhythm for Latinos the world over.

· Episode Three, THE CHICANO WAVE: Mexican Americans in California, Texas and across the Southwest create their own distinct musical voices during the second half of the 20th century. Their music would play an important role in the struggle for Chicano civil rights and ultimately propel them from the barrio to the national stage.

· Episode Four, DIVAS AND SUPERSTARS: Focuses on the Latin pop explosion of the turn

of the century and the success of artists like Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan and Shakira in the English-language market. As studios concentrate on star-driven pop, Latino youth gravitate toward urban fusions - Spanish rap and Reggaetón, as well as Rock en Español.

Latin Music USA was produced by a team led by WGBH, in co-production with the BBC. Funding for Latin Music USA is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers.