RITMO MUSIC

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Ritmo Music

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Dominican teen Leslie Grace hits the high notes with bilingual blend of bachata, 60s pop

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Leslie Grace has combined her Dominican culture, upbringing and a fusion of classic American pop and Latin music to create a sound all her own.

Born Leslie Grace Martinez in the Bronx and raised in Yonkers, the 18-year-old singer now lives with her family in Florida and is enjoying the success that came last year with her first hit, a bilingual, bachata-infused cover of the 1960s Shirelles song “Will U Still Love Me Tomorrow.

The song reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Latin Radio Airplay, making her the youngest Latin female artist to reach the top.

Grace dipped into the past again this year with a bilingual cover of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” which is climbing up Billboard’s Tropical Songs chart.

Your songs incorporate your Dominican culture with the bachata sound and Spanish lyrics. How important is it for you to stay true to your roots when making music?

It’s one of the most important things that I think about when I think about my music. To be an example for my generation by being American and Dominican and growing up in a Dominican home, it’s important for me to not only represent one of those cultures, but both.

I know there’s a generation out there that feels they have to choose one or are stuck in between, or that their Latin culture limits them when really we should embrace it. It’s really cool for me to be a representative of that through my music and my voice.

What was your upbringing like? Did your family support your dreams of becoming a singer?

My family is one of the most essential things I’ve been blessed to have in my life. We’re a big family and I’m the youngest of six. It was so cool growing up in a family that really supported what my passion is. I don’t take it for granted for one second. My parents have raised me to always think realistically but to always follow my heart and what my passion is because wherever your passion is, that’s where you'll find your purpose.

How did those early days influence you musically?

At home it was the typical Dominican household - - you would hear Gilberto Santa Rosa, Juan Luis Guerra. When we were cleaning the house we’d listen to singers like Ana Gabriel. I can actually smell the Windex now just thinking of those times. But outside of my household I’d listen to R&B and hip hop and pop. So that’s kind of where my influences were molded.

Being in the middle of such a melting pot as New York is, I was able to take all that in.

What’s something about yourself that people don’t know?

I’m a huge klutz and I like to prank people. But soon enough everybody will see it.

Congrats on finishing high school. Was it challenging to balance education and your career?

Yes, it was. People at school called me the real Hannah Montana because they’d say, “One second you’re here and the next you’re at some awards show.”

But it was really important for me to finish school. Because God willing, I’ll have a long career ahead but I’ll never have my last year of high school again.

If you weren’t a singer what other profession would you pursue?

I was thinking about studying psychology because I feel I’m a good listener and I’m actually really good at giving advice.

What’s next?

I’m excited about being at the Dominican Day Parade. It’s my first time and that’s going to be really cool to be on the float and representing my people.

What words do you live by?

My dad always says, “There’s always space to improve your life in everything you do.” He says it every time I complain about something, so that’s what I’m doing.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013, 3:10 PM