Jasmine Villegas sang a new rendition of Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind to kick off the Belmont Stakes today and nearly stole the show even before the horses were ready to run.
A stunning 16 year old singer, Jasmine gave a soulful and inspirational version of the song; which replaced Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York as the official opening of the Belmont.
But, just as millions around the country were engaging with the song and performance, ABC, in a stark reminder that this is a commercial enterprise, after all, cut to a commercial after a couple of verses, preventing millions from seeing the balance of the song.
While many, due to the lyrics of Empire State of Mind, had an issue with Empire State of Mind replacing Sinatra’s New York, New York as the Belmont Stakes anthem, Villegas’ version was cleaned up and beautifully done; while there is no accounting for taste, it would be difficult to imagine that anybody would be offended by the song itself.
Unfortunately, most of the country watching the Belmont Stakes didn’t see most of the performance. The announcers somewhat casually mentioned that the horses were thrown a bit after the performance by both the music and the crowd’s reaction to it.
Empire State of Mind seems destined to be a staple of Belmont Stakes’ future. The popularity of the song, which was first really realized during last year’s World Series at Yankee Stadium when Jay-Z and Alicia Keyes performed it live on national television, is due to its broad crossover appeal. While Villegas’ version changed the lyrics and omitted the hardcore nature of the original, the rhythm and hooks remained, if at a slower pace, and it paid homage to Alicia Keyes’ vocals from the original, and best known, version.
In any event, Villegas’ performance today at the Belmont Stakes was the clearest sign yet that Empire State of Mind is destined to be an anthem at New York based mainstream events for many years to come. When Jay-Z was starting out as a hardcore ‘gangster’ rapper, it is hard to imagine that anybody would have foreseen the day when the song that he will likely ultimately be best known for would be played at events such as the World Series and the Belmont Stakes.
Of course, in no small part, Jasmine Villegas is due the credit for the brilliantly performed Empire State of Mind and its reception today at the Belmont Stakes.
Source: Andy Hutchins, “Belmont Stakes Replacing Sinatra With Jay-Z, Making Last Lunge At Relevance”, sportingnews.com