Celia Cruz

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Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz, 1957.jpg
Cruz, 1957.
Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso

(1925-10-21)October 21, 1925
DiedJuly 16, 2003(2003-07-16) (aged 77)
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery
New York City, New York
ResidenceFort Lee, New Jersey, U.S.
  • Singer
  • actress
Years active1948–2003
  • Simón Cruz
  • Catalina Alfonso
  • Dolores (sister)
  • Gladys (sister)
  • Bárbaro (brother)
Musical career
  • Vocals

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso (October 21, 1925 – July 16, 2003), known simply and professionally as Celia Cruz, was a Cuban singer and one of the most popular Latin artist of the 20th century. Cruz was renowned internationally as the "Queen of Salsa", "La Guarachera de Cuba", as well as "The Queen of Latin Music".[1][2]

Throughout her career, Celia Cruz interpreted and internationally popularized tropical rhythms such as Son, Guaguancó, Rumba, Guaracha and Bolero. However, the genre that led to stardom was Salsa.[3]

She began her career in her native Cuba, earning recognition as a vocalist of the popular musical group Sonora Matancera, a musical association that lasted fifteen years (1950-1965). In the 1960s, after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Cruz left her native country, becoming one of the symbols and spokespersons of the Cuban community in exile.[4] Cruz continued her career, first in Mexico, and then in the United States, the country that she took as her definitive residence. In the 1970s she was fully incorporated into the Salsa genre, especially after her musical association with other artists of the genre within the Fania All-Stars. During the last years of her career, Cruz had already become a myth of Latin American music, her constant evolution in the world of music, helped her to remain in force practically until her death and to conquer new generations of followers. Her career formed an invaluable legacy and inescapable reference for future generations who discover in her a powerful and prolific source of inspiration; some of the songs performed by her are part of the cultural heritage of Latin America. Among the most famous are Quimbara, Burundanga, La Vida Es Un Carnaval and La negra tiene tumbao, among many others,[5] her musical legacy is made up of a total of 37 studio albums, in addition to many other special recordings, records in live or associations with other singers. In her career she was awarded numerous prizes, recognitions and distinctions, including two Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards. In addition to her prolific career in music, Cruz also made some punctual interventions as an actress in movies and telenovelas.

Celia Cruz also made famous the expression ¡Azúcar! (Sugar!) Which she adopted and it remained in the collective memory as her identifying phrase, which she shouted as a carnival ad inciting fun. With a unique style and an iconic image of unsurpassed attractiveness thanks to a charismatic and musical talent that is difficult to replicate, Celia Cruz is considered an authentic symbol of Latin culture worldwide.

Early life[edit]

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso was born in the Santos Suárez neighborhood of Havana, Cuba. Her father, Simón Cruz, was a railway stoker, and her mother, Catalina Alfonso Ramos, a housewife. Cruz shared her childhood with her three siblings: Dolores, Gladys and Bárbaro and numerous cousins, her chores included lullabies for the little ones. So she began to sing, her father wanted her to be a school teacher, and not without regret she tried to satisfy him and studied teaching. When she was about to finish the career and left to enter the National Conservatory of Music.[6]

Meanwhile, Cruz participated in radio programs for amateurs, such as La Hora del Té or La Suprema Corte del Arte, in which she won first prizes such as a cake or a silver chain, until by her performance of the tango Nostalgia received in payment 15 dollars, she later sang in the orchestras Gloria Matancera and Sonora Caracas.

Celia Cruz in the 1950s with the members of the Sonora Matancera in Havana



In 1948, Roderico Rodney Neyra founded the group of dancers and singers Las Mulatas de Fuego. Cruz was hired with this group as a singer, reaching great success and making presentations in Mexico and Venezuela. With the Mulatas de Fuego, Cruz recorded some songs. Shortly thereafter, Cruz began to sing on musical programs at Radio Cadena Suaritos, along with a group that performed Yoruba choruses and rhythms and recorded a song with the singer Obdulio Morales; the songs she recorded at that moment would be incorporated later to one of the first compilations of her work in LP format.

In 1950, Cruz met the businessman Rafael Sotolongo who sought her out because he wanted her to sing with the Sonora Matancera, at that time the most popular and successful music group in Cuba; this is because the lead vocalist of the orchestra, the Puerto Rican singer Myrta Silva had decided to leave the group to return to Puerto Rico, leaving the vacancy for a female voice available. Her income was approved by the director of the group, Rogelio Martínez. Upon hearing of this interview, the managers of the radio where she worked were arbitrarily dismissed.

Sonora Matancera[edit]

In her first rehearsal with Sonora Matancera, Cruz met her future husband Pedro Knight, who was the band's second trumpeter. Cruz debuted with the group on August 3, 1950. Initially Cruz was not received with enthusiasm by the public, but Rogelio Martínez had faith in her. On December 15, 1950, Cruz recorded her first songs with the group, which were a resounding success, her "musical marriage" with the Sonora Matancera lasted fifteen years. That's where the successes of Burundanga, El Yerberito Moderno, Tu voz, Pa 'la pigeon and many others come from. In total Celia recorded 188 songs with the Matancera. With the group, Celia also made short musical interventions in Mexican and Cuban films.

After Cuban Revolution[edit]

On July 15, 1960, when the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro began, a contract for the Sonora Matancera in Mexico arose. Cruz never imagined that she would ever step on Cuban soil again; the new Cuban regime looked with bad eyes that the group will accept offers to work abroad, specifically in the United States. Thus, the Castro regime arbitrarily forbade her to return to Cuba; when she completed a month of stay in Mexico, she received the news of the death of her father Simón Cruz. In 1961, Cruz and the Sonora left for the United States for a contract. Celia began performing solo performances without the orchestra, she performed at a recital at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. In 1962, before the refusal of the government of her country to allow her to return to Cuban soil, Celia acquired a house in New York. Although she tried to return to Cuba to see her sick mother, the Cuban government forbade her to return. A fatal day for Celia arrived on April 7 of that year; when she was preparing to act, she received the news of the death of her mother, Catalina Alfonso, who had been struggling with terminal bladder cancer. In that same year, on July 14, Cruz was married in civil ceremony with Pedro Knight after a romance of several years. Cruz and the Sonora Matancera made their first tour outside the American continent, visiting Europe and Japan, where they performed with Tito Puente. In 1965, Cruz would culminate a vertiginous fifteen years with the Sonora Matancera. Cruz began a solo career and her husband Pedro Knight decided to leave his position at Sonora Matancera to become her representative, arranger and personal director. In parallel, Cruz had adopted the American nationality.

In 1966, Cruz was contacted by Tito Puente to perform with his orchestra. Cruz and Puente started an association that released five albums, she also recorded albums with the Orquesta de Memo Salamanca, Juan Bruno Tarraza and Lino Frías under the TICO Records label. From this time one of her great successes was revealed: Bemba Colorá. Eventually Cruz joined Vaya Records. A musical change made her enter into Salsa music. In 1973, Cruz teamed up with the pianist and exclusive artist of the Fania Records label Larry Harlow and led an Afro-Cuban music concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. There Cruz interpreted Divine Grace, her first song of the Salsa genre and the door to this new rhythm; the album resulting from this meeting was produced by the now defunct Jerry Masucci, who is considered one of the creators of the Salsa genre along with the Dominican musician Johnny Pacheco. Later, she participated in a legendary concert recorded live at Yankee Stadium with The Fania All-Stars, a group composed of leaders of Latino groups that recorded for the Fania label.

Salsa music and The Fania All-Stars[edit]

Celia Cruz performing in Paris at the Olympia in 1980

Cruz signed a contract with the record company of Masucci, VAYA (Subsidiary of Fania). In 1974 she released the album Celia & Johnny, with Johnny Pacheco, who was a great success. Cruz integrated fully with the Fania All-Stars orchestra, which was a combination of the musicians of each orchestra that played for the musical label Fania (like Johnny Pacheco, Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón and others) With the Fania All-Stars, Cruz had the opportunity to visit the United Kingdom, France and Zaire. In 1977, Cruz recorded her first record with the backing of the trombonist and salsa orchestrator Willie Colón, a fusion that would be repeated with great success in 1981 and in 1987.

In 1982, Celia was reunited with the Sonora Matancera, and recorded the album Feliz Encuentro. In that year the singer received the first tribute of her career at Madison Square Garden in New York. In 1987, Cruz performed a concert in Santa Cruz de Tenerife; that concert was recognized by the publisher of the Guinness Book of Records as the largest outdoor free entry. 250,000 people attended the concert. In 1989, she won her first Grammy Award for the album Ritmo en el corazón, she was also invited to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Sonora Matancera in Central Park in New York. The decline of Salsa success gradually brought the end of Celia's musical association with the Fania All Stars.

Later years[edit]

In 1990 Cruz managed to return to Cuba, she was invited to make a presentation at the US base in Guantanamo. When she came out of this presentation she took in a bag a few grams of earth from Cuba, the same one she asked to be placed in her coffin when she died.

Although she had previously made musical presentations in Mexican and Cuban films, in 1992 Celia debuted as an actress in the American film Mambo Kings, along with Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas. A year later she made her debut as a television actress in the Mexican telenovela Valentina, along with Verónica Castro for the Televisa network.

In 1995, Celia has a special participation in the American film The Perez Family, along with Alfred Molina and Anjelica Huston. In 1997 she starred again for Televisa the Mexican telenovela El alma no tiene color, a remake of the classic Mexican film Angelitos negros, and where Cruz plays the role of a black woman who gives birth to a white daughter. On October 25 of that year the city of San Francisco officially declared that date as "Celia Cruz Day".

In 1998 she released the album Mi vida es cantar, from which one of her most successful themes is revealed: La Vida Es Un Carnaval. In 1999, she performed with Luciano Pavarotti for the Pavarotti and Friends concert. In 2000, Cruz released a new album under the auspices of Sony Music: Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night of Salsa, where she recorded again with Tito Puente, who died a little later. Thanks to this album, Cruz was awarded with her first Latin Grammy. In 2001, the album Siempre Viviré makes her the creditor of her second Latin Grammy. In that same year, she performed with Marc Anthony in a tribute to Aretha Franklin for VH1.

In 2002, Cruz released the album, La Negra Tiene Tumbao, where she ventured into modern variants of Caribbean rhythms, influenced by rap and hip hop. For this record she obtains her third Latin Grammy and her second American Grammy.

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


Celia Cruz's mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York

During a presentation in Mexico, Cruz suffered a health mishap; as a result of this, it was discovered that she suffered from glioma, (a very aggressive brain tumor), and underwent an operation to remove it at the end of that year, to then try to resume her artistic career. She recorded her last album, entitled Regalo del Alma. In March 2003, it was offered a tribute by the US Hispanic network Telemundo, which involved figures such as Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, La India, Gloria Gaynor and Patti LaBelle among others; this was her last public appearance.

On the afternoon of July 16, 2003, Cruz died at her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, at the age of 77. At her express wish, her mortal remains were first transferred to Miami for two days to receive the homage of her Cuban exile admirers, returning and finally resting in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.[7][8][9][10] 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]

Tributes and legacy[edit]

Celia Cruz Plaza in Union City, New Jersey
  • In 1976, Cruz was part of the documentary Salsa de Leon Gast, which talks about the international Latino culture.
  • In 1991, Miami, Florida named Calle Ocho as Celia Cruz Way in her honor.
  • On October 25, 1997, the city of San Francisco officially declared that date as "Celia Cruz Day".
  • In 2003, a music school opened in the Bronx, called Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music. Pedro Knight visited this school before his death to meet the students and share stories about his life.
  • In February 2004, her last album, published posthumously, won a Lo Nuestro Award as best salsa album of the year and two Latin Grammy awards.
  • 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.[12]
  • In 2005 her biography Celia: Mi vida was published, based on more than 500 hours of interviews with the Mexican journalist Ana Cristina Reymundo.
  • The journalist and TV presenter Cristina Saralegui planned to take the story of her life to the cinema and the American actress Whoopi Goldberg, admirer of the singer, expressed her interest in representing her, but the project was cancelled.[13]
  • Her extravagant costumes, which included several colored wigs, tight sequined dresses and very high heels, became so famous that one of them was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution.



  • Salón México (Mexico, 1950)
  • Una gallega en La Habana (Mexico, 1952)
  • ¡Olé... Cuba! (Mexico/Cuba, 1957)
  • Affair in Havana (USA/Cuba, 1957)
  • Amorcito Corazon (Mexico, 1960)
  • Salsa (Documentary, 1976)
  • Salsa (USA, 1988)
  • "Fires Within" (USA, 1991)
  • The Mambo Kings (USA, 1992)
  • Valentina (TV) (Mexico, 1993)
  • The Perez Family (USA, 1995) Luz Pat
  • El alma no tiene color (TV) (Mexico, 1997)
  • ¡Celia Cruz: Azúcar! (TV) (Tribute, USA, 2003)
  • Soul Power (Documentary of Kinshasa, Zaire Music Festival 1974) (USA, 2008)
  • CELIA, Celia Cruz Bio-Drama (2015 on Telemundo)

Grammy Awards[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pareles, Jon (December 14, 1992). "Review/Pop; The Queen of Latin Music Takes It From the Top". Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  2. ^ "Celia Cruz's Shoes". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-06-09.
  3. ^ Smithsonian Institute. "The Life and Music of Celia Cruz". Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  4. ^ When Fidel Castro banned Celia Cruz
  5. ^ El Heraldo: Ten Greatests Songs of "The Queen of Salsa" Celia Cruz
  6. ^ Biografías y Vidas. "Celia Cruz". Retrieved 25 May 2008.
  7. ^ Ellen Pearlman (April 1, 2008). "Azucar! Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz at the New World Theater". The Brooklyn Rail.
  8. ^ Townsend Rosa; Vicent, Manuel (July 18, 2003). "La muerte de Celia Cruz consterna al exilio cubano y a los artistas de la isla". EDICIONES EL PAÍS, S.L. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  9. ^ "¡Azúcar en el cielo!". El Diario de Hoy. July 17, 2003. Archived from the original on October 21, 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  10. ^ "Amid the Gravestones, a Final Love Song". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2012). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (in inglés;) (6ª ed.). Berlín: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 9783642297175. Retrieved 14 May 2017.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  12. ^ Rosero, Jessica (June 2, 2004). "Homage to Celia Cruz: UC to pay tribute to Queen of Salsa with events, park dedication". The Hudson Reporter.
  13. ^ La Nación: Whoopi Goldberg in the Celia Cruz skin
  14. ^ "National Museum of American History Reveals Celia Cruz Portrait". Newsdesk. Smithsonian Institution. October 3, 2012
  15. ^ Celia Archived 2012-10-11 at the Wayback Machine at Lortel Archives; accessed August 24, 2010
  16. ^ Gowens, Otis (2013-10-21). "Celia Cruz, queen of Salsa, gets Google Doodle". AJC.com. Cox Media Group.
  17. ^ "Jennifer Lopez rinde tributo a Celia Cruz en los American Music Awards". The Huffington Post (in Spanish). AOL. November 24, 2013. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  18. ^ http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/6722633/celia-cruz-series-telemundo-empire
  19. ^ "Celia". Kidjo.com. Retrieved 2019-07-31.
  20. ^ CMTV.ocm: Celia Cruz Biography
  21. ^ Fernandez, Lucio; Karabin, Gerard (2010). Union City in Pictures. Book Press NY. p. 74
  22. ^ Rosero, Jessica (June 18, 2006). "Viva la comunidad Cubano North Hudson celebrates at the annual Cuban Day Parade" Archived 2017-10-18 at the Wayback Machine. The Hudson Reporter.
  23. ^ Rosero, Jessica (May 26, 2006). "'La vida es un carnaval' North Hudson celebrates 6th annual Cuban Day Parade" Archived 2018-04-24 at the Wayback Machine. The Hudson Reporter.
  24. ^ Staab, Amanda (October 5, 2008). "UC first stop for Latin Grammies". The Union City Reporter. pp. 1, 21

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