What is there to say about Celia that hasn’t already been said? A legend by any standard. Known and respected world wide. A would be teacher who had a dream and fortunately for us, decided to pursue it.
Those of us who have had the great pleasure and honor to see her perform live were able to see for ourselves why she was labeled The Queen of Salsa. A stage presence unmatched. In a world dominated by men, she not only held her own, but was respected and admired by her peers and fans worldwide.
Ursula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alonzo, (let me catch my breath….ok), grew up in a diverse musical climate in listening to many artists from the era that were of great influence to her. As a teen, her aunt would drag her to Cabarets to sing, but her father encouraged her to continue studying. She followed her father’s advice and went on to become a teacher, however her ambition never died out and would eventually begin pursuing a career in music.
She began performing in contests, often winning first place and more opportunities to participate in future contests. With her popularity growing, she eventually received a call to full in as lead singer for Sonora Matancera. What started off as a fill in gig, turned into a 15 year career in which her fame took off, having toured most of Latin America.
In 1959, after Fidel Castro took over control of Cuba, Celia and her husband Pedro Knight, defected from Cuba and went on to become citizens of the U.S. She went on to perform with greats like Tito Puente and Johnny Pacheco among many others, eventually becoming the only female member of the Fania All Stars.
Celia went on to release over 70 albums throughout her career, having won 7 Grammy awards for her work. She has also been honored by the National Museum of American History in Washington DC by dedicating an entire exhibit to Celia and her work. Aside from the many honors, awards, and recognition paid to her, a play based on Celia’s life played in an off Broadway stage. The productions were both in English and Spanish. The show won four Hola awards from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.
Celia Cruz passed away in 2003 but the legacy she left behind is great ensuring that her accomplishments be recognized for years to come. Long Live The Queen!