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Sydney Hutchinson

known as “El Rey” (The King) of merengue, who also sings boleros and other Caribbean music, was born on 6 April 1920 near San Isidro on the outskirts of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. He grew up in Villa Juana, then the red-light district of San Isidro. He never knew his father. His mother, Altagracia Mateo, was a washerwoman originally from San Cristóbal, an area known for its Congo-Angolan musical traditions. Joseíto worked from an early age, doing errands for prostitutes, selling oranges and peanuts, and breaking rock used in construction projects that followed the destruction of the city of Santo Domingo by Hurricane Zenón in 1930.

In the 1930s Mateo began his career by singing with the guitar-based groups that were then popular in cabarets (brothels). The repertoire consisted mainly of boleros and sones genres imported from Cuba but locally popular and only the ...