When superstars such as Shakira and Jennifer Lopez are as recognizable to Americans as Rihanna and Miley Cyrus, it's clear that Latin music is no longer just for Hispanics.
For Latino artists looking to enter the American mainstream, the road was paved more than a decade ago by crossover stars such as Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin, who are in town this week for the Billboard Latin Music Awards.
"Latin music has acquired a new importance it never had before," says Leila Cobo, director of Latin content at Billboard. "Today, it's an essential part of music in the United States."
The awards show will be broadcast live Thursday, April 24, on Telemundo from the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables. It will feature performances by Iglesias, who has sold more than 100 million albums, and by Martin, whose commercial success with songs such as "The Cup of Life" and "Livin' la Vida Loca" helped turn Latin music into a worldwide phenomenon.
"Latin music used to be a big business [before that], but it was a niche," Cobo says. "If you weren't Latino, you didn't know it existed. If you asked someone about Chayanne or Marc Anthony or Ricky Martin, [Americans] didn't know who they were — with the exception, perhaps, of Gloria Estefan."
Estefan won the most awards — three — at the first ever Billboard Latin Music Awards ceremony in 1994, according to the magazine.
Marc Anthony, who also will perform on Thursday, won Best New Artist in 1994. He's one of several stars who will join Cobo for a Q and A session Wednesday during the 25th Billboard Latin Music Conference, an annual event that precedes the award ceremony.
The salsa singer's hit "Vivir Mi Vida" spent 18 weeks last year at the top of Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart.
"Marc Anthony is not only one of the top artists in the world — in any language and genre — but he also had the top-selling Latin album of 2013," Cobo says. "It's a privilege to celebrate his success as part of our 25th anniversary."
The three-day conference, which kicked off Monday at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami, features prominent music-industry guests such as Rio Caraeff, CEO of the digital entertainment platform Vevo, and Tom Corson, head of RCA Records. For more information, go to BillboardEvents.com/latin.