Alicia Keys (14) Takes On Tito Puente (3) In Sound Of The City’s Search For The Quintessential New York Musician


The Round of 64 for Sound of the City’s own version of March Madness—in which you, the Sound of the City voting public, help determine the quintessential New York musician—is under way, and you get to help choose who makes it to Round Two. Today’s first match pits “Empire State Of Mind” hook girl Alicia Keys against Latin jazz king Tito Puente. Check out the arguments in favor of each contestant below, then cast your ballot at the bottom of the page.

What else is there to say about the woman who sung the hook on NYC’s new unofficial anthem? Born in Hell’s Kitchen to an Italian/Scotch/Irish mom and an African-American dad, her serious musicianship and serious style advanced an image familiar to New Yorkers to the national stage. When “Fallin’” won three Grammys, it seemed less like an honor and more an accurate reflection of how much that song dominated 2001. Her performance of “Send Me an Angel” at Whitney Houston’s funeral is just the latest example of why you turn to Alicia when you need something done right. Jay-Z was no fool.
Mike Barthel

Raised in Spanish Harlem and trained at Juliliard, Tito Puente became a big band sensation in the middle of the 20th century thanks to the way he incorporated Latin rhythms into his orchestra’s repetoire. Salsa, merengue, cha-cha, bossa nova—all those genres (and others) were thrown into Puente’s melting pot, and the resulting stew, which was released over the course of more than 100 albums, was, like the city in which he lived and thrived, vibrant and unique, and it transformed its source material into roots music for a new generation of New Yorkers.
Maura Johnston


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