The Queen of Salsa, the Queen of Mambo, the Queen of Afro-Cuban music, the Queen of Latin Music & Cuba's guarachera was one of the most successful Cuban performers of the 20th century, standing amongst Latin music giants such as the legendaries Tito Puente ("Oye Como Va") and Damaso Perez Prado as well as famous figures such as Ruben Blades, Selena, and Jose Feliciano, having celebrated over 50 years of music and over 60 albums by the new millennium (with ten Grammy nominations, which she won a few). She lived through it all the way Latin music changed, in this regard comparable to jazz legend Miles Davis, and her discography stands as a monument to Latin music history, influencing entire genres such as salsa to artists themselves such as Tito Puente, Selena, Marc Anthony, La India, and Gloria Estefan. She has covered everything from Latin jazz to tropical Latin to salsa, and her music has helped break down many barriers in the Latino world while liberating Latin music to the worldwide masses. Although Ursula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso passed away on July 16, 2003, she stands as one of Cuba's most emblazoned symbols of power, strength, charisma, and endurance, having a string of twenty three gold albums and a legion of fans and artists that honor Cuba's, Latin music's greatest female artist of all time.
Celia Cruz was born on October 21, 1925 (some sources say 1924; she didn't like to reveal her age) in the poor Santo Suarez barrio of Havana, Cuba. Throughout her childhood, singing was a passion, and she earned her first pair of shoes by singing to a couple of tourists before singing at cabarets and nightclubs. Despite her father's wishes for her to become a school teacher, Celia participated in various talent contests (many of which she won) before she landed a record deal in Venezuela in 1948 with Turpial. Despite modest success, Celia continued her singing dream, and in 1950 she replaced Mirta Silva of the famous Cuban band La Sonora Matancera (the equivalent of the Duke Ellington Orchestra), finally tasting real success. In January 1951, Celia and the band recorded their first 78 rpm record, the classic single "Caocao Mani Picao" b/w "Mata Siguaraya", as well as their debut album Cuba's Foremost Rhythm Singer with La Sonora Matancera.
For 15 years, although not well-received at first, Celia traveled all over Latin America with the band, known as Café Con Leche ("coffee with milk"), even performing at Havana's world-famous Tropicana nightclub and casino. Celia also became known for her trademark shout "Azucar!" ("Sugar!") and in 1961 even cut her first taste of acting with Mexico's Amorcito Corazon (she would later act in the 1988 film Salsa and the 1992 famous Mambo Kings). She made the legendary band more popular when they were featured in five Spanish movies during the 1950s (i.e. Ole Cuba, Una Gallega En La Habana, Salon Mexico, Rincon Criollo, and Piel Canela).
As Fidel Castro seized power of Cuba in 1959, however, Celia and the band were forced to leave Cuba in July 1960 to settle down in the United States. An angry Castro refused to let Celia back into the country to visit her deceased father and ailing mother and would continue to do so for the span of Celia's career; she still wasn't allowed to visit her parents' graves by the time of her death in 2003. Celia nevertheless continued to record with La Sonora Matancera for another five years before she closed a glorious chapter with the band, instead recording a series of collaborations with Tito Puento that would lead to eight critically acclaimed albums for Tico Records before her move to Vaya Records. In 1973, Celia furthered her acting career playing Gracia Divina (Divine Grace) in the Latino version of the rock opera Tommy, Hommy, at New York's Carnegie Hall in which she received critical praise. The year 1974 brought more wonders as she joined Fania Records and dueted with Fania Records VP Johnny Pacheco to commercial success. She also became a member of the legendary Fania All-Stars that toured worldwide from Spain to France, England to Zaire, all the while bringing Celia to a wider audience. The members also ventured into disco with hits such as "Spanish Fever", "Desafio", and "Ella Fue".
Throughout the 80s, Celia reunited with La Sonora Matancera and received her long overdue awards and recognition. She continued to release a string of albums and hits (such as the Top 10 international hit "Mi Tierra") and recorded for soundtracks well into the '90s, breaking new ground again with the seminal "La Vida Es Un Carnaval" in 1998. Things took a turn for the worse, however, as she succumbed to a cancerous tumor in her home at Fort Lee, New Jersey at the age of 77 on July 16, 2003. Her death became an international event as fans all over Latin America and the world paid their tribute and respect to the Latin legend. Over 50,000 fans mourned over Celia at her funeral as soul legend Patti LaBelle sang "Ave Maria". New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York State Governor George Pataki, and Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton walked alongside her casket.
Celia's classics such as "Bemba Colora" and "Rie Y Lora", when remixed later that year, became dance club successes all over the world, including in the U.S., reminding the world of Celia's groundbreaking and very influential career as the Diva of Latin Song.
• On September 17, 1987, Celia Cruz was honored a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame after the request from President Ronald Reagan and fans for a long time. She eventually had stars in other celebrity sidewalks such as in Venezuela, San Jose, Costa Rica, and Mexico City's Plaza Galleria.
• Smithsonian Lifetime Achievement Award
• Billboard Lifetime Achievement Award
• Ellis Island Medal of Honor (Mayor's Liberty Award)
• Hispanic Women Achievers Award
• Hispanic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award
• Honored at 1995's New Orleans Jazz Festival
• Keys to Miami, New Jersey, Dallas, and Lima, Peru
• In 1994, President Bill Clinton gave her a medal from the National Endowment of the Arts.
• A wax statue of Celia stands at Hollywood's famous Wax Museum.
• In 1991, at Miami's Calle Ocho festival, one of the largest music festivals in the U.S., the city honored Celia with a main street titled Celia Cruz Way.
• October 25 is Celia Cruz Day in San Francisco (began 1997).
• Celia was a real diva. Her energy, flair, her trademark wardrobe, with its colorful and vibrant feathers, laces, and sequins, and her improvisational vocals and rich contralto are still unmatched in the Latin world. She even has a wardrobe at the Smithsonian Institute of Technology.
• Celia Cruz was a noted performer, selling out concerts internationally. She is still a household name in countries such as Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, and Cuba. Celia was also a notable charity giver.
• Celia received doctorate degrees from Yale and Florida State universities.
• Grammy Awards
Best Tropical Latin Performance for Ritmo En El Corazon (with Ray Barretto)
Best Salsa Album for La Negra Tiene Tumbao
Best Salsa/Merengue Album for Regalo Del Alma
• GUAJIRA GUANTANAMERA
"Guantanamera" is a political and social song held dear to Cuba and its best known song. Although many versions of the song were made, Celia Cruz did a classic rendition off her 1967 LP Bravo Celia Cruz. In 1997, former Fugees member Wyclef Jean invited her to be in his updated rap version off his solo LP The Carnival. Once again, the black audiences, and Hip Hop fans in general, were exposed to Celia Cruz. The song was also remixed to become a major Latin club classic.