At 15, This Third Generation Latinx Musician Already Nabbed Three Grammy Nominations
Ángela Aguilar couldn’t be prouder of her Californian-Mexican heritage.
- CategoryMusic + Culture
- Written byAnne M. Russell
- Photographed byMonica Orozco, Clemente Ruiz and Jesus Aguilar
- Hair & Makeup byCarmina Soria
In the current political climate, amid constant talk of wall building and a characterization by some of Mexicans as criminals, it might seem brave for Ángela Aguilar to title her third album Primero Soy Mexicana (First, I Am Mexican).
But according to the teen’s mother, it’s less of a pointed political statement and more of an expression of deep pride in and love for her Mexican culture and family’s music legacy. Aneliz Aguilar Álvarez says she is proud of her daughter’s status as an icon for second and third generation Mexican-Americans. “I’ve gotten emails from people who say, ‘My kids started to speak Spanish because of Ángela.’ It’s nice that she’s a good influence as a girl who’s super fluent in both languages. She is really bicultural and binational, but also 100% American.”
Ángela, who lives in LA’s San Fernando Valley, comes by her talent naturally. Her father, José “Pepe” Aguilar, is a singer/songwriter/producer with four American Grammys and four Latin Grammys to his credit. He has sold 12 million albums worldwide and even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You will also find a star there for his late father, Antonio Aguilar, who sold 25 million albums during his lifetime.
Antonio and his wife, Flo Silvestre, were superstars beginning in the 1950s. As famed actors as well as singers, they established what would become celebrated throughout Latin America as “La Dinastía Aguilar” (The Aguilar Dynasty).
Ángela with her father, José “Pepe” Aguilar
Ángela realizes the role her family has played in her success, and she is quick to give credit. “Because of my dad, I’ve been able to perform in huge venues all over the world,” she says. In fact her first appearance on stage was at age 3 on her grandfather’s final tour, and she’s loved being in front of audiences ever since. Her first album, Nueva Tradición, with her brother Leonardo, was released in 2012, when she was only 9. Her second, a Christmas album, Navidad con Ángela Aguilar, came out the following year. In addition to her brother, Ángela has three other siblings. All are dual citizens of the U.S. and Mexico; the Aguilars also have a large ranch in Northern Mexico.
Her choice of ranchera music, a century-old northern Mexican ballad style, honors her familial roots in the state of Zacatecas. She received a 2019 Grammy nomination for Best Regional Mexican Music Album for Primero Soy Mexicana. At the 2018 Latin Grammys, she performed “La Llorona,” an emotional, traditional song about a spectral woman searching for her lost children. She reprised it this year at the 61st Grammy Premiere Ceremony (which was taped before the live audience but not televised). When it comes to fashion, colorful Mexican gowns and flower crowns are Ángela’s signature style. The dress she wore for the Latin Grammy performance is from Oaxaca; another favorite is from Chiapas.
In the end she didn’t win the American Grammy or her two Latin Grammy nominations—Best New Artist and Best Mariachi/Ranchera Album—but to her, it was no surprise. “I was expecting to lose, and I did lose. I was with artists three times my age who are much better known to the Academy,” Ángela says. Certainly she has plenty of time to catch up, considering that even performers three times her age are only 45 years old.
In spite of all the fame and attention, Ángela seems to be a normal teen, albeit an extraordinarily talented, smart and pretty one. Her favorite author is young-adult, dystopian novelist Ally Condie, and she likes the teen drama series Riverdale. She has a good mind for business and says that if she weren’t a performer, “I’d like to be something in the entertainment business—maybe a manager,” adding, as most teenage girls would, “Or a model.” She posts daily to her Instagram (where she has 871,000 followers) and Twitter accounts, although she leaves Facebook to other team members. Ángela says she hears from her fans constantly and that the most enthusiastic ones tend to be in the 6- to 12-year-old range, “younger for the girls; older for the boys,” she adds.
Ángela used her high visibility on social media last year to help her father with the million-voter-registration initiative, Voto Latino, which included pre-registering teens ages 16 and 17, who, like Ángela, are too young to vote yet. Although she has been mostly home schooled to this point, Ángela’s now enrolled as a middle-schooler at the progressive private MUSE School in Calabasas, which her mom describes as, “very supportive.” She emails Ángela her homework assignments when she’s on the road.
As for what’s next, Ángela is at work on another album, to be released at the end of the year. She is focusing on doing more songwriting; “I’m writing a song a day,” she says. She’s also perfecting her French and is learning “La Vie en Rose,” the mournful love song made famous by Edith Piaf. Ángela says her fantasy performance venue is Madison Square Garden, a dream that seems well within reach.
It’s a risky move that could bring handsome rewards.