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La Queen del Merengue: Milly Quezada

by YaYa Vargas

Milly, Jocelyn y Los Vecinos Exitos Album, 1991

She is the only female recording artist from the Dominican Republic to win four Latin Grammy Awards, the ASCAP Latin Heritage Award, Billboard Awards, and several others. She has also been honored with Premios Cassandra Awards, as well as the highest honor in her genre, a Premio Soberano, both from the Dominican Republic. This Queen has been recognized internationally for her musical contributions, awarded keys to several cities around the world and even has her own day! Milly Quezada is La Reina del Merengue.

 

Milagros Quezada Borbón, was born May 21, 1955, in Santo Domingo, as the daughter of two Cibao natives. She became interested in music as a toddler, singing along with her three siblings for family, friends and small gatherings in her hometown.

The Quezada family moved to New York City from the Dominican Republic in the 1960’s, at the start of Tropical genres such as Salsa and Merengue decorating the streets with its heart thumping danceable arrangements and nostalgic lyrics.

Milly, Jocelyn y Los Vecinos ¡Acabando! Album, 1982 (Left to right: Martin Quezada, Milly Quezada, Jocelyn Quezada, Rafael Quezada)

Milly’s musical inclinations developed as a pastime in the streets of Washington Heights where with her brothers and sister, the group that would be known as Milly Jocelyn & Los Vecinos was formed.

At the time, merengue was known as a male dominated genre. However, Los Vecinos’ music identified with the growing community of Dominicans in Washington Heights and their distinctly feminist style of Merengue, capturing the hearts and imagination of the growing LatinX population. The group performed in events and churches, gaining popularity within the local community. Slowly but surely music became a way of life for her whole family and a studio recording was inevitable.

 

In a recent interview with the Sistah Sistah Podcast, Ms. Quezada shared her other love for being an aspiring news anchor, saying, “I love watching the news and being informed, I wanted to do that too.” 

Milly Quezada and her late brother Rafael Quezada, 2018

She completed her primary and secondary schooling in New York City and graduated cum laude from the City College of New York in 1981, majoring in Communications and Mass Media. She later graduated with a Paralegal degree in 1992 from the Katherine Gibbs School of Montclair, NJ.

A choice had to be made between sitting behind a news desk and traveling the world as a recording artist and performer. With the groups first album, “¡Acabando! La Guacherna”, producing hits like the albums signature track and “La Que Me Robó Tu Amor”, a career in music won that debate.

Five albums followed, including the Christmas album, “Navidades Antillanas” in 2010 and recently “Dos X Uno” with Johnny Ventura in 2017. Milly y Los Vecinos’ popularity  grew during the 1970s through the 1990s, with hits like “Volvio Juanita,” “La Guacherna“, “Tengo”, and many other songs that would go on to be played on national and international music platforms. 

Led by her oldest brother and musical arranger, the late Rafael Quezada, la Queen of Merengue along with the group travelled worldwide, and are considered pioneers in bringing Dominicanidad to the masses. Los Vecinos are famous for many firsts, including bringing live Merengue to major cities in Japan: Tokyo, Nagasaki and Osaka, and regularly toured countries such as Spain, Central and South America and many states within the United States where the Dominican Diaspora thrives. The group was also first in entertaining the 1990 Presidential Inaugural Gala for then President, George W. Bush Sr. in Washington, D.C.

Milly Quezada and her sons: Miguel Vasquez, Anthony Vasquez, Rafael Vasques

With encouragement from her team, Quezada embarked on a solo career, moving to Puerto Rico where she also married and became a mother, enjoying even more success as a solo artist. 

Since the 1990s, she has been either on tour or in recording studios regularly, collaborating with other Dominican artists such as Sergio Vargas, Toño Rosario, Juan Luis Guerra, Victor Manuelle, Gilberto Santa Rosa and more. 

In January 1996 Milly’s life was turned upside down with the passing of her husband, manager and father of her three young sons, Rafael Vasquez. This forced her to take a break from entertainment, spanning twenty years at the time, due to this tragic moment in her and her family’s lives.

Milly Quezada performing alongside Juan Luis Guerra

With time, and the motivation of her longtime friend and manager Pedro Nuñez del Risco, Quezada geared up to reclaim her career in 1997. She went on to record and popularize songs like, “Lo Tengo Todo“, “Entre Tu Cuerpo y el Mío”, “Porque Me Amaste“, “Para Darte Mi Vida” with Elvis Crespo, “Vive”,  amongst several other songs.

Later that year, Quezada was recognized by the Senate of both Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic for her musical accomplishments, and on November 8th was honored with MILLY QUEZADA DAY by the New York City Mayoral Office.

The 2010 Dominican American National Roundtable in Washington D.C. awarded Quezada the Lifetime Achievement Award for her cultural contribution to the arts. In 2011 Berklee College of Music recognized her distinguished career, and Hostos Community College granted her its Presidential Medal, making Quezada the second woman to ever receive the historical honor.

La Reina del Merengue has never been one to be put in a box. Her vocals have also graced Salsa, Bachata and Bolero arrangements as well throughout her musical profession. 

Milly is also a respected actress. She stars in Hermanos (2011) and Juanita (2018), both filmed in the Dominican Republic, in addition to Cal y Arena, shot in Puerto Rico. Her first movie role as Tata in Yuniol (2007) earned her a Premios Cassandra for Best Actress. The film also won for Best Movie.

While she is the Queen of Merengue, Quezada has always been open to sharing the spotlight with other queens in music, both established as well as up and coming, throughout her trajectory.  A huge fan of Celia Cruz and Myrta Silva, Milly’s collaborations include a recording of the song “Cuando Se Quiere Un Hombre” with Olga Tañon, in addition she has performed with Miriam Cruz y Las Chicas del Can, and Juliana Oneal.

La Tria: Milly Quezada, Fefita La Grande, Maridaliah Hernandez

 

La Tria is her most recent female empowerment partnership alongside Fefita La Grande and Maridaliah Hernandez. All merengue royalty in their own right, these ladies united in 2017 to record La Pimienta Es La Que Pica, and have been touring together performing their trio masterpiece, in addition to their own hit songs.

 

 

Considering 2020’s social distancing due to the Covid- 19 pandemic, touring has come to a halt. The ladies have united with VivaLiveTv.com for a live Pay Per View concert, airing August 15th online.

The Corona epidemic has also inspired Milly’s creativity while spreading a message. After seeing a performance of Alicia’s Keys’ “Good Job”, a song that pays tribute to unsung and overlooked everyday heroes in Keys’ life and beyond, Milly felt she needed to voice a similar message to essential workers in the Latino community.

From that inventiveness came “Gracias a ti”, written by Milly’s son, Anthony Vásquez, with a musical arrangement by maestro Antonio González. A #GraciasATiChallenge social media campaign began trending after the tracks release, encouraging artists and Quezada’s fans to recored themselves dancing and singing along with the lyrics, in appreciation for and bringing awareness to our heroes on the frontlines. 

Milly Quezada, “Gracias a ti”

 

This is a cause dear to Quezada’s heart, she says, “hope and gratitude is the flag that all of us in the country and in the world are called to raise in front of the Covid- 19 storm and in gratitude to those who have been there [making sure the rest of us are safe]!”

Four decades in the music industry, including 36 records sponsored by various recording labels, she has always made sure to feature various artists, as well as tapping into the cultural wealth of Dominican talents, producers, and arrangers.

 

A living icon, who always makes it a top priority to represent her country leading by example, Milly Quezada has made her mark on a culture and musical genre. Her generous charity contributions, specifically in the Dominican Republic and New York, are much to be appreciated and admired, paving the way with open arms for creatives to come.

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