Straight from the outer boroughs
by Amanda Halkiotis
|Third Ave. and E. 149th in the Bronx–via wikipedia|
New York City has a music scene like no other. You can spend a night at the Met Opera, attend a Broadway show to see some serious stage talent, or head to Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen for the hottest DJs and dance clubs around. A few miles north of Manhattan, in the Bronx, chart-topping numbers have been churning out since the early days of doo-wop, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues.
“When I think of the Bronx, I can’t help but think of the great musical talents who came from this humble borough,” said Alex Maruri of MCNY Tours, a Bronx-based tour company escorting visitors to areas like the Grand Concourse, Little Italy, and Little Ireland.
Some classic top hit heavyweights that hail from the Bronx include Dion & The Belmonts, Bobby Darin, The Chiffons, The Earls, The Chords and The Chantels.
|Bobby Darin was a Bronxite–via wikipedia|
“Growing up in the Bronx, music, art and dancing were an escape for many young residents — it was an innocent, creative form of expression,” said Maruri recently. “Of course we have from the Bronx — Jennifer Lopez, Mary J. Blige, Stan Getz, Jerry Vale, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Valerie Simpson from Ashford & Simpson, Angela Bofill, Aaron Hall, Eydie Gorme and Prince Royce, [and] we have so many more.”
|Jennifer Lopez, also known as Jenny from the block—by Ana Kley via Flickr|
|Billy Joel, The Piano Man was born in the Bronx–via wikipedia|
|Mary J. Blige has not forgotten her roots in the Bronx–via wikipedia|
If you have ever gotten your Spanish groove on or gone dancing on disco night, you can thank the Bronx for your good time (and sore feet in the morning!). As percussionist Jim Centeno said, “The Bronx was HIP, the Bronx was where you went to DANCE. The Bronx had its own style; it’s always had its own vibrancy.”
Salsa legends like Pete Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto and Manny Oquendo got their start by performing in the South Bronx and East Harlem.
|Tito Puente in concert-–by frank keillor via Flickr|
As for disco, Maruri dishes on the original steps to the Hustle. “The very first Hustle was created in late 1972, and did not even have the name ‘The Hustle,’ and was a 5-step count, with no turns. Most people believe it was created in the South Bronx among Puerto Ricans, and was originally done at house parties, hooky gigs and basement club dances in the South Bronx.”
But by 1974, it became known as the ‘Spanish Hustle,’ and in 1975 the Fatback Band made a song with that name. Alex explained that the dance was also known as the ‘Latin Hustle’; both of these Hustles had 6-step counts to the beat of the music. Finally, around 1976, it became known as the ‘New York Hustle,’ and later on, just known as ‘The Hustle.’ Maruri also remembers how disco helped depict the Bronx experience.
“There was an impactful song that came out when I was growing up, called “There But for the Grace of God Go I,” by August Darnell, Maruri recalled. “It was when disco hit the airwaves and it was about the Bronx, people were calling the song controversial, but the radio still played an edited version of it.”
The root of hip-hop culture was in the 1970s, also in the borough; the exact birthplace was 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the West Bronx. DJ Kool Herc lived at this address, and threw parties that were just the beginning of what would eventually become an international music sensation.
|1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx–via Wikipedia|
DJ Afrika Bambaattaa, who formed the famous hip-hop crew, Universal Zulu Nation in the Bronx, used DJ Kool Herc’s breakbeats in his own DJing. “Then you would have innovators of that sound, like Afrika Bambaataa, who would take global sounds like West Indian, Salsa, [and] great beats from rock records. Afrika Bambaattaa’s Planet Rock was our Bronx anthem growing up with the block parties in our neighborhoods,” Maruri said.
|D.J. Afrika Bambaataa doing what he does best. –credit|
Through the ’90s, the Bronx continued to use music to fight negative stereotypes and promote the spirit of the borough. Bronx Latin freestyle artists like the “Queen of Freestyle” Judy Torres with her famous song “No Reason to Cry” and “Come into My Arms” hit the top of the charts, as well as George Lamond, Noel, Sweet Sensation and La India who did freestyle alongside Marc Anthony before they went on to perform Salsa.
“My favorite DJs got their modest start in the Bronx — Little Louie Vega, DJ Jellybean Benitez and Frankie Knuckles,” Maruri said. These are worldwide acclaimed artists, all born and raised in the Bronx.
|Little Louie Vega–-via Wikipedia|
“The ’90s freestyle was a time when we connected to the lyrics and danced to love, pain and changes. The songs were about the true love, broken hearts and first love memories,” she remembered.
Rapper KRS-One (a stage name backronym for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) showed his Bronx pride through his first hip-hop group Boogie Down Productions. The group Terror Squad also originated in the Bronx in 1998, with Bronx-born Joseph Antonio Cartagena, aka Fat Joe, along with homeys Big Pun and Remy Ma. Even breakdancing started in the Bronx!
Manhattan may have Swing Street, and the Beastie Boys may be forever Brooklyn, but the Bronx has its own unique staying power within the music world.
Take a tour of the borough with Maruri through MCNY Tours, listen to her stories, and get a firsthand glimpse of the Bronx’s rich and diverse culture. Just be sure to keep your ears tuned in to all the sounds of the neighborhoods.
|Aerial view of the Bronx –via Wikipedia|
This post was sponsored by MCNY Tours.