Though there are various mariachi bands that perform in New York, the tradition is really kept alive by Ramón Ponce Jr. and his father, Ramón Sr, founders of the Mariachi Real de Mexico, and the Mariachi Academy of New York. Founded in 2000, the Academy meets at the St. Paul School on 118th St. in East Harlem, in the middle of a growing Mexican community. Ramón says that the Academy is the first mariachi school “east of the Mississippi.” Classes are held after school from 6:00 to 8:00pm, and students range in age from seven year old to seventeen. There are seven instructors to teach three skill levels on the following instruments: trumpet, violin, vihuela,guitarrón (traditional Mexican bass), guitar, harp, vocals; and music theory.
Mariachi is considered the national music of Mexico.The mariachi tradition began in the states of Colima and Jalisco about a century ago. Guadalajara in Jalisco is now called “la cuna de mariachi” (the cradle of mariachi). The music they play is most commonly ranchera, but through the years other genres of music have been adapted to the style, such as boleros. It became very popular among the various Latino communities here in the United States in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s during the Golden Era of the Mexican cinema. Spanish-language movie houses, like the Teatro Hispano in East Harlem and Teatro Puerto Rico in the Bronx, played the many Mexican movies of the day which featured mariachi music performed by screen legends like Jorge Negrete, Javier Solis, and Pedro Infante.