Carin León Is Bringing Música Mexicana and Country Ever Closer

In January 2023, the música Mexicana star Carin León was preparing for a concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena when he decided he needed to do something special for an encore.

León grew up in Hermosillo, the capital city of Sonora, Mexico, about 250 miles from Tucson, Ariz. Music was always playing around his home, often from border radio stations that piped in a wide variety of American hits, and his father was known to listen to David Allen Coe’s “Tennessee Whiskey” on cassette over and over.

“Me and my brother would sing the song as kids, but we would make up different lyrics because we didn’t know English back then,” León said. The country giant Chris Stapleton turned his R&B-slow-dance cover of “Tennessee Whiskey” into a career breakthrough, and León, a Stapleton superfan, worked up his own powerfully soulful version for the largely Latino audience in Nashville.

“The next day, the performance went viral,” León said. “People were saying, he can sing country music, he can sing in English. So that gave me a little spark.”

León, 34, was already a Latin Grammy-winning artist with billions of streams on Spotify before he covered “Tennessee Whiskey” — and before he released bilingual collaborations with the country star Kane Brown and the soul singer Leon Bridges; wrote with the Nashville veterans Jon Pardi, Cody Johnson and Natalie Hemby; earned a standing ovation at the Grand Ole Opry with a set entirely in Spanish; became the first Latin artist to perform at both the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals; and opened for the Rolling Stones in early May.

“My comfort zone is being outside of my comfort zone,” León said from his shopping-bag-strewn suite at a swank Beverly Hills hotel in California, his girlfriend and team at his side. “There are no limits for music. There’s just good music and bad music.”

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