Celia Cruz: A Salsa Icon

Posted in Salsa

Celia Cruz performing live in Paris, France.

Celia Cruz performing live in Paris, France.

When it comes to salsa musicians, few compare in either fame or talent to Celia Cruz. Commonly referred to as the “Queen of Salsa”, an incredible 23 of her albums went gold. But who was Celia really, and how did she make the journey from a working class neighborhood in Cuba to international superstardom?

Celia Cruz was born on October 21st, 1925. Though her father wanted her to be a teacher, her mother encouraged her in her true passion—music. Attempting to find a middle ground and appease her father, Cruz began classes at the National Conservatory of Music in Havana. Even there, though, her teachers recognized her natural talent and encouraged her to pursue singing full-time.

Cruz’s career really took off when she began singing with the Sonora Matancera orchestra. Overcoming initial doubt about her abilities, she took the group to a new level of fame as they toured throughout the Americas.

However, just as things were really looking up for Cruz, disaster struck. In 1959, while Cruz was touring Mexico with her group, a revolution took place in Cuba. Cruz and members of her band decided to defect and moved permanently to the United States. A bitter Fidel Castro banned her from ever returning to her home country.

In a way though, this was a blessing for her musical career. In the US, Cruz joined Tito Puente in his orchestra, a hugely popular salsa group. With Tito by her side, Cruz became the superstar she was born to be. She became the international face of salsa music, widely known for her voice, flamboyant dress, and her trademark catchphrase of “¡azúcar!” (sugar!) that she would shout during her performances.

Though she passed away in 2003, the legacy of Celia Cruz lives on. Some of Celia Cruz songs include: “La vida es un carnaval”, “La negra tiene tumbao”, “Guantanamera” among others. The Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music takes her name, as do several parks and public places around the country. For fans of salsa music, Celia Cruz will never die—she lives on via her music and the many marks she left on the genre. ¡Azúcar!

Celia Cruz Tribute at AMAs by Jennifer Lopez

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