Hispanic artists have been making their mark on country music since the 1970s, when South Texas natives Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez first topped Billboard’s country charts. Despite their success, many have faced marginalization on the path to stardom.
But things may be changing — just ask Valerie Ponzio. The El Paso native rose to fame in 2017 after a stint on NBC’s “The Voice,” where she garnered national attention for her rendition of the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire.” This September, Ponzio released her debut EP, “Frontera,” which explores her experiences growing up along the U.S.-Mexico border and how Latino music and culture has influenced her as an artist. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit about your start in country music. When did you decide to pursue music professionally?
Valerie Ponzio: I’ve been doing music since I was a little kid. My older siblings influenced me a lot. They’re actually both musicians themselves. My mom loved country music a lot, so she would always bring artists and songs for me to listen to.
The pop country divas … I just was so taken with them, like Shania Twain, Faith Hill and The Chicks. In that era, that was heavily influential for me.
Obviously, “The Voice” was really important. Was that what opened things up for you?
Definitely. Getting on “The Voice” stage was a game-changer and a big step up. I had actually decided right before I got the opportunity to be on “The Voice” to make the move to Nashville. Right at that turning point, that opportunity arose; I diverted and did that for a little bit. So, there were a lot of pivotal turning points in my career happening during and after “The Voice.”
Frontera means “border” in Spanish. You’ve said your hometown of El Paso was a big inspiration. How do you think El Paso shaped you and influenced your music?
I feel like it’s something that, no matter what I’m in the mood to do stylistically or where my tastes are turning, a cornerstone is just always going back to my roots and where I came from. Growing up in a border town like El Paso, you don’t realize how much it does shape you. There’s definitely moments where you take your hometown for granted and you’re just kind of like, “I want to get out of here.”
But I learn every day more and more how much it shaped me and how grateful I am for where I’m from. So, it just comes out in my writing. I love the people. I love how earnest and hardworking everyone is, and the love, family and community where I come from. It’s just something I can’t help but be pulled back to singing about.