Celia Cruz

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Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz, 1957.jpg
Celia Cruz in 1957
Background information
Birth nameÚrsula Hilaria Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso
Also known asLa Guarachera de Cuba
Born(1925-10-21)October 21, 1925
Havana, Cuba
DiedJuly 16, 2003(2003-07-16) (aged 77)
Fort Lee, New Jersey, US
  • Singer
  • actress
Years active1947–2003
Associated acts

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso (October 21, 1925 – July 16, 2003) was a Cuban singer and the most popular Latin artist of the 20th century, gaining twenty-three gold albums during her career. She received a star in the "Walk of Fame" in Hollywood. The U.S. President Bill Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Arts in 1994. She was renowned internationally as the "Queen of Salsa", "La Guarachera de Cuba", as well as "The Queen of Latin Music". [1] [2] She spent much of her career working in the United States and several Latin American countries. Leila Cobo of Billboard magazine once said "Cruz is indisputably the best known and most influential female figure in the history of Cuban and Latin music". She was an ambassador for the variety and vitality of the music of her native Havana, and after the Cuban revolution she became a symbol of artistic freedom for Cuban American exiles. She died of brain cancer in 2003.

Bill Clinton 42nd president of the United States

William Jefferson Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Prior to the presidency, he was the governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981, and again from 1983 to 1992, and the attorney general of Arkansas from 1977 to 1979. A member of the Democratic Party, Clinton was ideologically a New Democrat, and many of his policies reflected a centrist "Third Way" political philosophy.

<i>Billboard</i> (magazine) American music magazine

Billboard is an American entertainment media brand owned by the Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group, a division of Eldridge Industries. It publishes pieces involving news, video, opinion, reviews, events, and style, and is also known for its music charts, including the Hot 100 and Billboard 200, tracking the most popular songs and albums in different genres. It also hosts events, owns a publishing firm, and operates several TV shows.


Early life

Celia Cruz in the 1950s with the members of the Sonora Matancera in Havana Celia Cruz y La Sonora Matancera.jpg
Celia Cruz in the 1950s with the members of the Sonora Matancera in Havana

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso was born on October 21, 1925 [3] in the diverse, working-class neighborhood of Santos Suárez in Havana, Cuba, the second of four children. Her father, Simón Cruz, was a railroad stoker and her mother, Catalina Alfonso was a homemaker who took care of an extended family. Celia was one of the eldest among fourteen children- brothers, sisters, and many cousins- she often had to put the younger ones to bed by singing them to sleep. . [3] [4] [5]

While growing up in Cuba's diverse 1930s musical climate, Cruz listened to many musicians who influenced her adult career, including Fernando Collazo, Abelardo Barroso, Pablo Quevedo and Arsenio Rodríguez. Despite her father's opposition and the fact that she was Catholic, as a child Cruz learned Santería songs from her neighbor who practiced Santería. [6] Cruz also later studied the words to Yoruba songs with colleague Merceditas Valdés (an akpwon , a santería singer) from Cuba and made various recordings of this religious genre, even singing backup for other female akpwons like Candita Batista. [7]

Abelardo Barroso Dargeles was a Cuban bandleader and singer, the first sonero mayor to be recognized as such by the Cuban public.

Arsenio Rodríguez Cuban musician

Arsenio Rodríguez was a Cuban musician, composer and bandleader. He played the tres, as well as the tumbadora, and he specialized in son, rumba and other Afro-Cuban music styles. In the 1940s and 1950s Rodríguez established the conjunto format and contributed to the development the son montuno, the basic template of modern-day salsa. He claimed to be the true creator of the mambo and was an important as well as a prolific composer who wrote nearly two hundred songs.

Catholic Church Christian church led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's "oldest continuously functioning international institution", it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

As a teenager, her aunt took her and her cousin to cabarets to sing, but her father encouraged her to attend school in the hope she would become a teacher. After high school she attended the Normal School for Teachers in Havana with the intent of becoming a literature teacher. [8] At the time being a singer was not viewed as an entirely respectable career. However, one of her teachers told her that as an entertainer she could earn in one day what most Cuban teachers earned in a month. From 1947, Cruz studied music theory, voice, and piano at Havana's National Conservatory of Music. Cruz began singing at Havana's radio station Radio García-Serra as a contestant on this station's popular "Hora del Té" daily broadcast, where she sang the tango "Nostalgias" and won a cake as first-place finisher. She often won cakes and also opportunities to participate in more contests. [9] Her first recordings were made in 1948 in Venezuela.[ citation needed ]

Cabaret event venue

Cabaret is a form of theatrical entertainment featuring music, song, dance, recitation, or drama. It is mainly distinguished by the performance venue, which might be a pub, a restaurant or a nightclub with a stage for performances. The audience, often dining or drinking, does not typically dance but usually sits at tables. Performances are usually introduced by a master of ceremonies or MC. The entertainment, as done by an ensemble of actors and according to its European origins, is often oriented towards adult audiences and of a clearly underground nature. In the United States striptease, burlesque, drag shows, or a solo vocalist with a pianist, as well as the venues which offer this entertainment, are often advertised as cabarets.


In 1947 Celia Cruz enrolled in the Escuela Normal de Maestros (Teachers'College) in Havana; however, began to enter amateur singing contest on local radio stations. After graduating in 1949, Cruz enrolled in Havanas' National Conservatory of Music, where she took she classes until 1950. She did not graduate from the conservatory; however, she soon joined La Sonora Matancera. [10]


Celia Cruz performing in Paris at the Olympia in 1980 Celia Cruz 1.jpg
Celia Cruz performing in Paris at the Olympia in 1980

Cruz's big break came in 1950 when Myrta Silva, the singer with Cuba's Sonora Matancera, became pregnant and returned to her native Puerto Rico. Since they were in need of a new singer, the band decided to give the young Celia Cruz a chance. She auditioned in June, and at the end of July she was asked to join as lead singer. [11] She won the support of Sonora's band leader, Ro gelio Martínez, and went on to record hits such as "Yembe Laroco" and "Caramelo". Soon her name was bigger than the band's. During her 15 years with Sonora Matancera, she appeared in cameos in some Mexican films such as Rincón criollo (1950), Una gallega en La Habana (1955) and Amorcito corazón (1961), toured all over Latin America, and became a regular at Havana's famous Tropicana nightspot.

Sonora Matancera

La Sonora Matancera is a Cuban/Afro-Cuban band that played Latin American urban popular dance music. Founded in 1924 and led for more than five decades by guitarist, vocalist, composer, and producer Rogelio Martínez, musicologists consider it an icon of this type of music. Notable singers to have sung with the band include Bienvenido Granda, Daniel Santos, Myrta Silva, and Celia Cruz.

After Fidel Castro assumed control of Cuba in 1959, when the Sonora Matancera left Cuba to perform in Mexico in June 1960, they did not return. Cruz and her husband, Pedro Knight, were prohibited from returning to their homeland and became citizens of the United States. In 1965, Cruz left the group and in 1966, Cruz and Tito Puente began an association that would lead to eight albums for Tico Records. The albums were not as successful as expected. However, Puente and Cruz later joined the Vaya Records label. There, she joined accomplished pianist Larry Harlow and was soon headlining a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall.

Cruz's 1974 album with Johnny Pacheco, Celia y Johnny, was very successful, and Cruz soon found herself in a group named the Fania All-Stars, which was an ensemble of salsa musicians from every orchestra signed by the Fania label (owner of Vaya Records). In Celia y Johnny, "Quimbará" became one of her signature songs. With the Fania All-Stars, Cruz had the opportunity to visit England, France, Zaire (today's DR Congo), and to return to tour Latin America; her performance in Zaire is included in the film Soul Power . [12] In the late 1970s, she participated in an Eastern Air Lines commercial in Puerto Rico, singing the catchy phrase ¡Esto sí es volar! (This is to truly fly!).

In 1976, she participated in a documentary film Salsa about the Latin culture, along with figures like Dolores del Río and Willie Colón. She also made three albums with Willie Colon (1977, 1981, 1987). With a voice described as operatic, Cruz moved through high and low pitches with an ease that belied her age, and her style improvising rhymed lyrics added a distinctive flavor to salsa. Her flamboyant costume, which included various colored wigs, tight sequined dresses, and very high heels, became so famous that one of them was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution. [8]

Celia Cruz used to sing the identifying spot for WQBA radio station in Miami, formerly known as "La Cubanísima": "I am the voice of Cuba, from this land, far away...I am liberty, I am WQBA, the most Cuban! (Yo soy de Cuba, la voz, desde esta tierra lejana...soy libertad, soy WQBA, Cubanísima!) During the 1980s, Cruz began to garner the international recognition that was her due, she made many tours in Latin America and Europe, doing multiple concerts and television shows wherever she went, and singing both with younger stars and stars of her own era. She began a crossover of sorts, when she participated in the 1988 feature film Salsa alongside Robby Draco Rosa.

Dexter Lehtinen, Celia Cruz, Alonso R. del Portillo, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and Pedro Knight in May 1992 Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen1992a.jpg
Dexter Lehtinen, Celia Cruz, Alonso R. del Portillo, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and Pedro Knight in May 1992

In 1990, Cruz won a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin PerformanceRay Barretto & Celia Cruz – Ritmo en el Corazón. She later recorded an anniversary album with Sonora Matancera. In the same year, she was recipient of the Excellence Award at the 1990 Lo Nuestro Awards. [13] In 1992, she starred with Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas in the film The Mambo Kings . In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded Cruz the National Medal of Arts. In the same year, she was inducted into Billboards Latin Music Hall of Fame along with fellow Cuban musician Cachao López. [14] In 1999, Cruz was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. [15] In 2001, she recorded a new album, on which Johnny Pacheco was one of the producers.

On July 16, 2002, Cruz performed to a full house at the free outdoor performing arts festival Central Park SummerStage in New York City. During the performance she sang "Bemba Colora'." A live recording of this song was subsequently made available in 2005 on a commemorative CD honoring the festival's then 20-year history entitled, "Central Park SummerStage: Live from the Heart of the City". Cruz appeared on the Dionne Warwick albums 1998 Dionne Sings Dionne & 2006 My Friends & Me with their Latin Duet version of (Do You Know The Way To) San Jose.

In March 2003, the Spanish-language television network Telemundo produced and aired a tribute special honoring Cruz, ¡Celia Cruz: Azúcar!. It was hosted by Puerto Rican singer Marc Anthony and Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan. It featured musical performances by various Latin music and Anglo performers including Victor Manuelle, Paulina Rubio, José Feliciano, Milly Quezada, Los Tri-O, Estefan, Patti Labelle, Arturo Sandoval, Ana Gabriel, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Tito Nieves, Albita, Johnny Pacheco, Alicia Villareal, Olga Tañón, Mikey Perfecto, José Alberto "El Canario", Rosario, Luis Enrique, Anthony and Gloria Gaynor. [16] [17]

Personal life

During July 1960, following the revolution in Cuba, La Sonora Matancera was on tour in Mexico when the band members decided to settle in the United States. Castro vowed that none of the artists would ever be allowed back to Cuba. Cruz attempted to return when her mother died in 1962, but was not granted government permission. Cruz became a US citizen in 1961 and a year later married Sonora's trumpet player Pedro Knight, who became her manager and musical director.


Celia Cruz's mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York Celia Cruz Mausoleum 12-2008.jpg
Celia Cruz's mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York

On July 16, 2003, Cruz died of brain cancer at her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, at the age of 77. [18] [19] [20] Knight was there for her while she was going through cancer treatments. She had no children with her. After her death, her body was taken to Miami's Freedom Tower, where more than 200,000 fans paid their final respects. Multiple vigils occurred worldwide in cities such as Havana, Miami, and Cali (the Cali vigil became notorious in Colombian history due to its three-day span). [21] Knight had Cruz buried in a granite mausoleum that he had built in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx. Knight chose the plot on which it stands, which is near the gravestones of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, because it was accessible to fans and had four windows built into it so that fans could see inside when paying their respects. Knight himself was buried with Cruz in the same mausoleum following his death on February 3, 2007. [22] An epilogue in her autobiography notes that, in accordance with her wishes, Cuban soil which she had saved from a visit to Guantánamo Bay was used in her entombment.[ citation needed ]


Celia Cruz Plaza in Union City, New Jersey 9.7.14CeliaCruzParkByLuigiNovi.jpg
Celia Cruz Plaza in Union City, New Jersey

Through a formidable work ethic, Cruz rose to the very top in her genre; a genre that was traditionally male dominated. [5] [23] In February 2004, for her last album, Regalo del Alma , she won a posthumous award at the Premios Lo Nuestro for best salsa release of the year. It was announced in December 2005 that a musical called Azucar! would open in Tenerife before touring the world. The name comes from Cruz's well-known catch phrase of "¡Azúcar!" (“Sugar!”).

In 2003 a music school was opened in the Bronx, named the "Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music." Pedro Knight visited this school before his death to meet the students and share stories about her life. On June 4, 2004, the heavily Cuban-American community of Union City, New Jersey heralded its annual Cuban Day Parade by dedicating its new Celia Cruz Park (also known as Celia Cruz Plaza), which features a sidewalk star in her honor, at 31st Street and Bergenline Avenue, with Cruz's widower, Pedro Knight, present. There are four other similar dedications to Cruz around the world. [24] Cruz's star has expanded into Union City's "Walk of Fame", [25] as new marble stars are added each spring to honor Latin entertainment and media personalities, such as merengue singer Joseíto Mateo, salsa singer La India, Cuban musician Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Cuban tenor Beny Moré, [26] Tito Puente, Spanish language television news anchor Rafael Pineda, salsa pioneer Johnny Pacheco, [27] singer/bandleader Gilberto Santa Rosa and music promoter Ralph Mercado. [28]

On May 18, 2005, the National Museum of American History, administered by the Smithsonian Institution and located in Washington, D.C., opened "¡Azúcar!", an exhibit celebrating the life and music of Celia Cruz. The exhibit highlights important moments in Cruz's life and career through photographs, personal documents, costumes, videos, and music.

On September 26, 2007, through May 25, 2008, Celia, a musical based on the life of Celia Cruz, played at the Off-Broadway venue New World Stages. The show won four 2008 HOLA Awards from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors. [29]

On March 16, 2011, Celia Cruz was honored by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative postage stamp. The Cruz stamp was one of a group of five stamps honoring Latin music greats, also including Selena, Tito Puente, Carmen Miranda, and Carlos Gardel.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History collaborated with photographer Robert Weingarten to create an object-based portrait of Celia Cruz featuring artifacts in the museum. The portrait was unveiled October 3, 2012. [30]

On October 21, 2013, Google honored her with a Google Doodle. [31] At 41st American Music Awards, American singer Jennifer Lopez performed a medley of Cruz's songs. [32]

In 2013, Cruz was inducted into the New Jersey Hall Fame. In October 2015, Telemundo premiered an 80-episode docu-drama based on Cruz's life, Celia . [33]



Grammy Awards

YearNominee / workAwardResult
1989"Ritmo En El Corazon"Best Tropical Latin PerformanceWon
2000 Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night of Salsa Best Salsa PerformanceWon
2001"Siempre Viviré"Best Tropical Traditional AlbumWon
2003 La Negra Tiene Tumbao Best Salsa AlbumWon
2003 Regalo del Alma Best Salsa/Merengue AlbumWon
2004 Regalo del Alma Best Salsa AlbumWon
2016Herself Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Won

See also

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