|Birth name||Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso|
|Also known as||La Reina de la Salsa, La Guarachera de Cuba|
|Born||October 21, 1925
|Died||July 16, 2003 (aged 77)
Fort Lee, New Jersey, U.S.
|Genres||Salsa, Bolero, Cha-cha-cha|
|Labels||Fania Records, RMM Records & Video, Sony Discos|
|Associated acts||Sonora Matancera, Fania All-Stars|
Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso de la Santísima Trinidad (October 21, 1925 – July 16, 2003) was a Cuban-American salsa performer. One of the most popular salsa artists of the 20th century, she earned twenty-three gold albums and was renowned internationally as the “Queen of Salsa” as well as “La Guarachera de Cuba”. She spent much of her career living in New Jersey, and 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 music.”
In 1950, Cruz made her first major breakthrough, after the lead singer of the Sonora Matancera, a renowned Cuban orchestra, left the group and Cruz was called to fill in. Cruz was hired permanently by the orchestra, but wasn’t well accepted by the public at first. However, the orchestra stood by their decision, and soon Cruz became famous throughout Cuba. During the 15 years she was a member, the band traveled all over Latin America, becoming known as “Café con leche” (coffee with milk). Cruz became known for her trademark shout “¡Azúcar!” (“Sugar!” in Spanish). The catch phrase started as the punch line for a joke Cruz used to tell frequently at her concerts. Once, she ordered café cubano (Cuban coffee) in a restaurant in Miami. The waiter asked her if she’d like sugar, and she replied that, since he was Cuban, he should know that you can’t drink Cuban coffee without it! After having told the joke so many times, Cruz eventually dropped the joke and greeted her audience at the start of her appearances with the punch line alone. In her later years, she would use the punch line a few times, to later say: “No les digo más ‘Azúcar’, pa’ que no les dé diabetes!” which means “I won’t say ‘Sugar’ anymore so that you won’t get diabetes”.
With Sonora Matancera, she appeared in cameos in some Mexican films such as Salon México (1950) and Una gallega en La Habana (1952).
When Fidel Castro assumed control of Cuba in 1959, Cruz and her husband, Pedro Knight, refused to return to their homeland and became citizens of the United States. 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). 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. In the late 1970s, she participated in an Eastern Air Lines commercial in Puerto Rico, singing the catchy phrase ¡Esto sí es volar! (This really is flying!).
In 1976, she participated in a documentary film Salsa about the Latin culture, along with figures like Dolores del Río and Willie Colon.
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 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.
In 1990, Cruz won a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Performance – Ray Barretto & Celia Cruz – Ritmo en el Corazon. She later recorded an anniversary album with Sonora Matancera. 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 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 2006 Dionne Warwick album My Friends & Me.
In February 2004, her last album, Regalo del Alma, 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 “Assuca!” would open in Tenerife before touring the world. The name comes from Cruz’s well-known catch phrase of “¡Azúcar!”
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. Cruz’s star has expanded into Union City’s “Walk of Fame”, 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, Tito Puente, Spanish language television news anchor Rafael Pineda, salsa pioneer Johnny Pacheco, singer/bandleader Gilberto Santa Rosa and music promoter Ralph Mercado.
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. Some performances were in Spanish and some in English. The show won four 2008 HOLA awards from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.
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.
2003 Homenaje a Beny Moré
2003 Celia & Johnny
2003 Son Boleros, Boleros Son
2003 Reina de la Música Cubana
2003 Regalo del Alma
2003 Más Grande Historia Jamás Cantada
2003 Estrellas de la Sonora Matancera
2003 Celia in the House: Classic Hits Remixed
2003 Carnaval de la Vida
2003 Candela Pura
2002 Hits Mix
2001 La Negra Tiene Tumbao
2000 Siempre Viviré
2000 Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night of Salsa
1999 En Vivo Radio Progreso, Vol. 3
1999 En Vivo Radio Progreso, Vol. 2
1999 En Vivo Radio Progreso, Vol.1
1999 En Vivo C.M.Q., Vol. 5
1999 En Vivo C.M.Q., Vol. 4
1998 Mi Vida Es Cantar1998 Afro-Cubana
1997 También Boleros
1997 Cambiando Ritmos
1996 Celia Cruz Delta
1995 Festejando Navidad
1995 Double Dynamite
1995 Cuba’s Queen of Rhythm
1994 Merengue Saludos Amigos
1994 Mambo del Amor
1994 Homenaje a Los Santos
1994 Guaracheras de La Guaracha
1993 Homenaje a Beny Moré, Vol. 3
1993 Boleros Polydor
1993 Azucar Negra
1992 Verdadera Historia
1992 Tributo a Ismael Rivera
1991 Reina del Ritmo Cubano
1991 Canta Celia Cruz
1990 Guarachera del Mundo
1988 Ritmo en el Corazón
1986 De Nuevo1986 Candela
1983 Tremendo Trío
1982 Feliz Encuentro
1981 Celia & Willie
1977 Only They Could Have Made This Album
1976 Recordando El Ayer
1975 Tremendo Caché
1974 Celia & Johnny
1971 Celia Y Tito Puente en España
1970 Etc. Etc. Etc.
1969 Quimbo Quimbumbia
1968 Serenata Guajira
1967 A Ti México
1967 Bravo Celia Cruz
1966 Son con Guaguancó
1966 Cuba Y Puerto Rico Son
1965 Sabor y Ritmo de Pueblos
1965 Canciones Premiadas
1959 Mi Diario Musical
1958 Incomparable Celia
Salón México (Mexico, 1950)
Una gallega en La Habana (Mexico, 1952)
Salsa (Documentary, 1976)
Mambo Kings (USA, 1992)
Valentina (TV) (Mexico, 1993)
El alma no tiene color (TV) (Mexico, 1997)
Celia Cruz: ¡Azucar! (TV) (Tribute, USA, 2003)
|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|
|2002||La Negra Tiene Tumbao||Best Salsa 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|
By Pete Nater