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Our History: These Classic Songs? They Were Composed By Latinas

Who wasn't heard of "Bésame Mucho," performed by so many famous singers for decades? Most don't know it was composed by a Mexican young woman.
Consuelo Velázquez, who was a teenager living in Mexico when she wrote probably her most famous composition, singing 'Bésame Mucho.'
Consuelo Velázquez, who was a teenager living in Mexico when she wrote probably her most famous composition, singing 'Bésame Mucho.'YouTube

Who hasn't heard of the torchy and utterly romantic song, "Bésame Mucho," a staple of singers from all over the world for so many decades, including Frank Sinatra, Natalie Cole, Andrea Bocelli and Luis Miguel?

Yet few people know that it was penned in 1941 by the late Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez when she was a teenager. She once said she had never been kissed when she wrote one of the most famous boleros or ballads about kissing. It's recognized as the most sung and recorded Mexican song in the world.

Many have sung it in a variety of different ways, but probably not as unusually as a singer backed up by a group of Russian military men.

“One of the most beloved songs of all time was written by a woman,” says Rudy Pérez, producer and composer and co-founder of the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame in Miami Beach, Fla., which also includes a museum highlighting the work of Latina songwriters.

On Women's History Month, it's worth highlighting how many songs which have become "classics" were composed by Hispanic women.

Take “What a Difference A Day Makes,” sung by several towering performers throughout the years, including Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse, and even becoming a big disco hit in the mid-1970s.

The tune was first made famous in the United States by the singer and pianist Dinah Washington, called “the most popular black female recording artist of the '50s.”

That song, which earned Washington a Grammy in 1959 and has since been inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, was written by María Grever, a prolific Mexican songwriter who spent some time in the U.S. working as a film composer for Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox.

“What a Difference A Day Makes,” was originally in Spanish as the Latin American smash hit “Cuando Vuelva A Tu Lado,” still being reinterpreted by popular artists, such as Luis Miguel.

Grever wrote more than 800 songs, including some featured in a classic Esther Williams movie and another made popular in the states by the Andrews Sisters.

Jazz pianist and singer Nat King Cole recorded two Spanish-language albums – one in a studio in Havana, Cuba -- and included another one of Velázquez’s songs, Cachito Mِío (Little Bit of Mine). Another one of Velázquez’s tunes, Te Quiero (I Love You), became in English the very famous "Magic in the Moonlight" sung by famous American performers such as Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, and Connie Francis.

Cole also included in his albums songs written by Isolina Carrillo, a Cuban singer and composer who got her start at the age of 11 in her father’s orchestra when the pianist called in sick. Her most well-known song is likely "Dos Gardenias," interpreted by Cole and many other singers, including most recently by the Buena Vista Social Club.

Several artists in the U.S. and Latin America, including Vicki Carr, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, John Secada, and Johnny Ventura, to name just a handful, have used the songs of Mexican songwriter Lolita de la Colina and Cuban songwriter Concha Valdés Miranda, who penned the Grammy-nominated bolero “El que más te ha querido (The one who has loved you the most).”

A contemporary Latina songwriter Cuban-American singer/songwriter, Gloria Estefan, is considered a trailblazer in the music industry, starting the “Latin Music Explosion” with her hit Conga in 1985, which helped open the doors for other Latino artists, including Shakira and Ricky Martin. Estefan has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide.

Folk singer Joan Báez has been performing professionally for more than fifty years. One of her most celebrated compositions, Diamonds & Rust, about her relationship with singer Bob Dylan, reached the top of the charts and continues to be popular more than 30 years later.

Singer Linda Ronstadt, also a songwriter in her own right, has used several songs written by acclaimed Puerto Rican composer Sylvia Rexach, whose most famous song, Olas y Arena (Waves and Sand), is considered a Latin American classic.

Rexach is part of a group of iconic Latina songwriters that also include Chabuca Grande, Eladia Blázquez, Ernestina Lecuona, Elena Casals, Violeta Parra and María Elena Walsh. They have all composed some of the most popular songs in Latin America and the United States, ranging from pop songs and boleros to tangos and folk music.

“(The music business) is historically a man’s world, but the music and the songs all speak for themselves,” Rudy Pérez tells NBC Latino.

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