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In the Community: Making Music in Boyle Heights


Musicians at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.

Photo by NoIdentity via Flickr.

Boyle Heights is the site of The Shop, Center Theatre Group’s costume and prop shop, which is also our hub for programming that provides community residents with opportunities to make theatre a part of everyday life. Boyle Heights community members, CTG, and El Teatro Campesino are currently collaborating on Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven, a free show that will take place at Grand Park on October 10 and 11 at 3:30pm. In advance of the performances, we took a look at the rich musical history of Boyle Heights, which will play a key role in Popol Vuh.

It’s a center for Mariachi music, a place where jazz sounds fuse with Latin beats to form pachuco music, and an incubator for Chicano rock and punk: Boyle Heights has a rich and varied musical history.

Folk musicians donning matching suits and sombreros have been gathering at Boyle Heights’ Mariachi Plaza since the 1930s, simultaneously performing and auditioning in hopes of being hired for restaurants and parties.

But the eponymous strum of guitars and the blare of trumpets are not the only sounds to be heard on Mariachi Plaza: it is also the site of Barrio Boogie, a semiannual celebration of pachuco music and culture. A nearby bar, Eastside Luv, also hosts a monthly Pachuco Boogie Night.

These contemporary events recreate the Chicano jazz and pachuco sounds of the 1940s, when the legendary Lalo Guerrero and others performed these styles at the Paramount Ballroom (located on Cesar Chavez Avenue and known simply as The Paramount today).

Boyle Heights is over 90 percent Latino today, but the neighborhood has also been home to Jewish and Japanese-American populations. These communities all came together at Phillips Music Company, where Bill Phillips sold instruments and offered music lessons from 1936 to 1989.

The shop was a popular hangout for Boyle Heights residents, some of whom went on to make it in the music world, like singer Andy Russell, Louie Perez and David Hidalgo of rock band Los Lobos, and Scott Rodarte of punk band Ollin.

In addition to Ollin, Boyle Heights was home to punk bands such as Los Illegals and The Brat in the 1970s and 1980s. A thriving East Los Angeles Chicano punk scene revolved around The Vex, an all-ages music club on the top floor of the Self Help Graphics building.

CTG and El Teatro Campesino are drawing on the area’s vibrant musicality to create the soundscape for Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven.

To read more about the music of Boyle Heights, check out these articles and websites:

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