Britt Aamodt

Debbie, Manny and the Mob

Debbie, Manny and the Mob | Media List


The Star News Weekender 5/6/06

Debbie, Manny and the Mob

by Britt Aamodt
Special to The Star News Weekender

It was the 1980s and young music student Debbie Farley had packed her flute and her sheet music, and moved to New York City. She’d located an apartment in Greenwich Village, famed haunt of writers, artists and musicians.

One evening, walking the Village with her friend, she encountered Street the Beat, a Latin rock group, dubbed the “Puerto Rican Beatles,” performing near Washington Square Park.

Typically, it’s the audience member who pushes through the crowd with a just-bought CD and a request to inscribe “To Ma with love” on the cover. But on this occasion, the roles reversed.

As Farley walked away, the guitarist called after her. He asked if he could have Farley’s autograph.
Because she was a great audience member? Because she had cool hair?

Because Manny Cortez thought she was pop singer Cyndi Lauper.

Nearly two decades later the couple is still together, now as Manny and Debbie Cortez. They have four teenaged children, a house in Otsego, a home recording studio and one hot band: Manny and the Mob.

The Cortezes, along with band members Dan Johnson on bass, Brian Farley on lead guitar and Grey Meyer on drums, will be opening the Elk River Rotary Club’s Taste of Elk River Thursday, May 11. The two-hour set, beginning 5 p.m. at Lion’s Park, will feature Manny Cortez originals, including “Caliente”, “Rockets”, “Let Me Love You” and “Anita.” The band will also accompany guest singer Pat Feit on jazz standards.

Debbie Cortez grew up in Wisconsin, the offspring of a musical family. Her mother was the church organist, and her grandfather the choir director.

“I remember trying to sing along with the choir songs,” she said, recalling her early introduction to music. “My mother taught piano lessons in our home, and I remember one of her students playing the flute. I thought it was the most beautiful instrument I’d ever seen or heard.”

When it came time for college, Debbie Cortez majored in music performance. She specialized in classical flute and piano. But it was the opportunity to study jazz flute in one of the coolest musical climates in America that later drew her to New York City.

It’s tempting to wonder where Debbie Cortez’s musical career would have led if she hadn’t resembled Cyndi Lauper, or enough like the singer to provide Manny Cortez with a clever introduction.

“I never dreamed I’d end up in a rock band, much less a Latin rock band with all its unique rhythms. After all, I’m an Irish girl from Wisconsin.”

Manny Cortez was born in the Bronx. Like many of his generation, he watched The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and said from that point on, “I knew I wanted to be a musician.”

Yet it was New York’s Latin-rock scene that was to have the strongest influence on the budding singer-songwriter. Long before Ricky Martin or Marc Anthony, Manny Cortez with his band Street the Beat was fusing Latin rhythms with a pop-rock sensibility, and making a success of it.

“We played on the Regis Philbin Show in New York,” touted Manny Cortez, who ranks that performance as one of the highlights of a career that has spanned both coasts, produced a clutch of albums and created a sound as diverse as it is listenable.

“We've been married for almost 19 years, and our styles have merged,” Debbie Cortez said of their musical partnership in Manny and the Mob. “Elements of jazz have been added because of my background, while I’ve developed a more Latin and rock improv style.”

Locally, the group has performed at Elk River’s ArtSoup festival, as well as fundraising performances for the Rogers High School choir and Breast Cancer Awareness in Delano.

Formed in 1992, Manny and the Mob has recently joined the ranks of a growing number of musicians who, rather than courting major label contracts, are opting to produce their own albums and promote them online using web sites, streaming audio and MP3 downloads.

A dozen songs by Manny and the Mob, along with solo and duet performances by the Cortezes, are available for download at, and
The band’s site ( provides a distribution point for the CDs “Manny and the Mob” and “Second Coming,” both of which will be available at the Taste of Elk River.

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