Introducing the World to Cuban Music: A Tribute to Celia Cruz
In this, one of her signature songs, the late Celia Cruz sang “No need to cry – life is a carnival, and it’s always more beautiful to live singing.” It is this positive philosophy in life that won her millions of fans from all over – earning her the title as the most successful and beloved salsa performer of the 20th century. It is also her infectious music and irresistible rhythms that make it all but impossible to keep your feet from tapping – or your hips from wiggling – when you listen to the Queen of Salsa.
Putting Cuba on the Map
With her explosive voice and equally vivacious personality, Cruz earned 23 gold albums and over 100 recognitions and Grammy awards. It was shewho introduced the world to salsa music, causing a wave of salsa trends to hit shores well beyond the Hispanic world. Billboard magazine once wrote in an article, “Cruz is indisputably the best known and most influential female figure in the history of Cuban music.”
Cruz spent her childhood and youth in Havana, Cuba – the birthplace of salsa. While growing up in the diverse Cuban musical climate of the 1930s, Cruz was influenced by many musicians along the lights of Pablo Quevedo, Paulina Álvarez, Abelardo Barroso, and Arcaño y sus Maravillas. But she quickly developed her own voice and style, creating music that’s distinctive and uniquely hers.
Cruz started singing in cabarets as a teenager and then moved on to performing in a popular program on Havana’s Radio García-Serra. Her shot at fame came when she replaced the lead singer of a well-known Cuban orchestra, Sonora Matancera. She spent the next 15 years with them, gaining fame all over Latin America, during which she developed a trademark shout, greeting her audience with a loud “azúcar!” (sugar) at each show.
Though Cruz left Cuba for the United States in 1959 and spent the rest of her life there, her heart always belonged in Cuba. Throughout her 50-year singing career, she strongly supported educational, health and cultural issues in Cuba, as well as other Hispanic communities. She also founded the Celia Cruz Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds for underprivileged students wishing to study music. Celia left us in 2003, but her legacy will clearly be kept alive for a long time.
Photo | Phillip Pessar