Producer Sal Abbatiello of Fever Records is once again bringing freestyle music to the stage via his show, “Forever Freestyle 9,” taking place this Saturday in the Bronx. Tickets for the popular show go quickly so fans should get to the box office before the show is sold out.
Featured this year will be freestyle artists TKA/K7, Judy Torres, the Cover Girls, Noel, Lisette Melendez, Sugar Hill Gang, Rob Base, Soave, Coro, Nocerra and George Lamond. Also featured is Lucho, DJ Solo and the Whiteboy DJ KYS. Hosts for the show will be Speedy and Abbatiello.
The “Queen of Freestyle,” Torres took the time on a 27-degree winter day to chat with me. “The ‘Freestyle’ show is always lots of fun. The Bronx fans come out at Lehman Center, and performing with my fellow artists always feels like we are getting together for an annual party. There is nothing like performing in the Bronx. I was born in the Bronx and lived there until I was 25. I had some of my best and worst memories there,” said the singer who attended St. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic school, then eventually went on to Lehman College.
Torres also reflected on the early days of her career. “I was obsessed about being a singer, and I kept wondering why I hadn’t been discovered,” she said. “I was a teenager, but I performed in talent shows and occasionally in nightclubs around my area, impatiently hoping someone would discover me. I was doing a gong show in a tiny club where the singers were supposed to sing badly but they all sang well. So I decided to sing like Edith Bunker of the show ‘All In the Family.’ A judge attempted to gong me, but I was joking and the audience got that, so [they] stopped him.
“After the show, that same judge approached me, stating he wanted to help me. He told me to give him six months to get me a paid gig. He advised me I needed original songs, so he introduced me to Micky Garcia, who needed his songs recorded. I was given a song entitled ‘Loves Going to Get You.’ One day, at an audition, I met a singer who didn’t like her song, which was ‘No Reason to Cry.’ I loved that song and she loved my song, so we switched songs. It took awhile for ‘No Reason to Cry’ to pick up momentum because it wasn’t on the radio, but eventually I signed with an independent label and then the song got air play. ‘No Reason to Cry’ became my first hit single. I was 18.
“Later I went with Profile Records, where I rerecord ‘No Reason to Cry’ under a different mix and sound. I recorded another single called ‘Come Into My Arms,’ which did better than ‘No Reason to Cry.’”
Torres also recorded ‘Faithfully,’ which became a number one hit. “My career picked up. Bills got paid, and I was able to help family,” said Torres.
Many artists have performed and written songs that have impacted their lives. “Each song I sing has significance for me,” the freestyle singer continued. “‘Come Into My Arms’ meant something to me because I co-wrote it and wrote it about someone who broke my heart. My mother told me to use music to help me feel better. I’ve noted that when going through some kind of angst, I write my best material. I think that is when I’m fully present in my feelings,” said Torres, who, in her free time, goes into schools to talk with young people about self-esteem and the damage caused by bullying. “I also do some acting when I am not singing and have recently started teaching Zumba classes in New Jersey.”
Torres recently married in October 2014 and now has a step-daughter. “Marriage has been an adjustment, but I love it. My step-daughter is a wonderful girl, and I love being a mother. I now have a family I didn’t think I was going to have,” she remarked. Torres still hosts a show on WKTU Sundays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Her show formerly featured mostly freestyle music, but the station has since changed its format to top 40.
Freestyle is at the heart of Torres’ recordings, and she is grateful to Abbatiello for keeping freestyle music alive. “Although freestyle has unfortunately left the radio waves for the most part, it has a devoted fan base. Therefore, Sal, who was instrumental in creating the freestyle movement, has kept it alive by providing the venues where fans can support via his ‘Freestyle’ shows. So whenever Sal calls, I am there and enjoy being part of it. I believe I speak for all the freestyle artists when I say that we are grateful for our devoted fans,” Torres said earnestly.
Torres will be part of “Freestyle Forever 9” at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m. Lehman Center is located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd. West in the Bronx. Interested parties can get tickets at the Lehman Center box office by calling 718-960-8833 or by going online to www.lehmancenter.org. Lehman Center is accessible by the 4 or D train to Bedford Park Boulevard and is off the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Major Deegan Expressway. Parking is $5.