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Leila Cobo

Connecting Cultures through Music

Leila Cobo
Musician, Journalist, and Novelist
1988 Fulbright Foreign Student from Colombia

A person leaning on a table with arms bent at the elbow, looking into the camera

Leila Cobo is a classically trained concert pianist, a novelist, and perhaps her country’s preeminent journalist focusing on Latin Music. As Latin Music has increasingly taken over the U.S. charts, Cobo has been there to document its meteoric rise. Along the way she has worked with artists such as Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Maluma, Marc Anthony, Daddy Yankee, and Rosalía; has published two award-winning novels; and was named the inaugural “Leading Latin Lady” by the Latin Grammys in 2017. Prior to these impressive accomplishments, Cobo was a 1988 Fulbright Foreign Student, pursuing a master’s degree in communication and media studies at the University of Southern California.

The multi-talented Cobo was born in Cali, Colombia and has degrees in journalism from Bogotá’s Universidad Javeriana and piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music, in addition to her master’s degree from USC. Cobo is currently Billboard’s VP of Latin music and is known as one of the world’s leading experts in Latin music. In this role, she’s been able to build media coverage of Latin music in the United States, and she made Billboard the first, and only, English-language media that covers Latin music in-depth. Prior to her Fulbright grant, Cobo performed extensively in Colombia, with orchestras including Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia, Orquesta Sinfónica del Valle, and Orquesta Sinfónica de Antioquia. Cobo believes that “music is far more than entertainment; it’s an essential ingredient for the soul and as essential as humanity itself.”

In addition to her musical pursuits and accomplishments, Cobo is an accomplished author focusing on the Colombian-American experience. Tell Me Something True, Cobo’s debut novel about a Colombian-American woman who uncovers the truth about her deceased mother’s past, won the National Latino Book Award. Cobo’s second novel, The Second Time We Met, features an adopted Colombian-American boy seeking more information about his biological mother in Bogotá. The novel won the Latino Book Award for Best Popular Fiction. Cobo also writes non-fiction, penning a biography on Mexican-American songwriter and artist Jenni Rivera, which was the top-selling Spanish language book in the United States for more than two months in 2013. Her most recent book, Decoding “Despacito:” An Oral History of Latin Music was featured in the New York Times.

Woven throughout Cobo’s remarkable career is a desire to have an impact on Latin music and culture within her native region, in the United States, and across the world. Cobo enthusiastically credits Fulbright with making her “a citizen of the world and part of a global community of excellence and leadership…[being a Fulbrighter] has indelibly shaped my career and opened countless doors.” Through her work, Cobo has connected cultures to promote mutual understanding, underscoring the tremendous impact her Fulbright experience has had on her life.