The Struggle in Black and Brown: African American and Mexican American Relations during the Civil Rights Era

By Brian D. Behnken | Go to book overview

EIGHT
Brown-Eyed Soul
Popular Music and Cultural Politics in Los Angeles

LUIS ALVAREZ AND DANIEL WIDENER

In May of 1970 the East Los Angeles–based band El Chicano hit number 28 on the Billboard Top 100 pop music chart with their song “Viva Tirado.” Exhibiting El Chicano’s eclectic mix of rock and jazz, the tune was the first ever to attain positions in every category of the Billboard chart except country and western. It may seem odd that a band that had recently changed their name from the generic sounding “VIPs” to El Chicano—a reflection of the Chicana/o Movement’s radical critique of racism, poverty, and political neglect in the United States— appealed to such a diverse American audience. Despite “Viva Tirado’s” popularity, there was some confusion over who El Chicano was and how their music should be classified. When on tour in New York, for instance, band member Bobby Espinosa remembers, “[T]hey didn’t know where to book us. We ended up playing a show at the Apollo Theater with the O’Jays, Jerry Butler, the Last Poets, all these black groups. They didn’t know what we were. They’d say, ‘What are you guys, Indians? What’s a Chicano?’”1 Closer inspection of “Viva Tirado” however, helps explain why El Chicano achieved such crossover appeal and ended up playing gigs alongside African American artists.

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