Born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonzo de la Santísima Trinidad in Havana, Cuba on October 21, 1925. As a little girl, Celia would perform for the tourists visiting Cuba. When she was a teenager, her aunt would take Celia and her cousin to local cabarets to perform. Her aunt also had Celia perform in contests at local Cuban stations winning a cake as first prize. She would win cakes often as well as opportunities to perform in more talent shows. Her father’s aspirations was for Celia to become a Spanish teacher and was opposed to her participating in these performances. Celia was told by one of her teachers, that as talented as she is, she would make much more money as a singer in a day than a Cuban teacher would make in an entire year. Celia’s aspirations quickly became different of her fathers. Her very first recording was in 1948 in Venezuela with the “Leonard, Melody and Alfonso Lorraine Orchestra.”

Cruz got her break to fill in as lead singer of a renowned Cuban orchestra, “La Sonora Mantacera” in 1950. Although she was not accepted at first by the public, she was hired as the orchestra’s permanent lead singer later becoming a success throughout Cuba. Her and the band had cameos in a two films, Salon México and Una gallega en La Habana. Traveling throughout Latin America they became known as “Café Con Leche” and Celia’s trademark phrase that had flourished from a joke told at the beginning of her concerts — in a Miami restaurant she ordered cafe cubano, the waiter asked if she would like sugar, Cruz responded to waiter that if he was Cuban, he should know that you can’t drink Cuban coffee with out sugar. Eventually at the beginning of the concerts instead of telling the joke again and again, she would greet her fans with “¡Azúcar!”

In 1959, when Castro assumed control of Cuba, Celia and her beloved husband, Pedro had refuse to return to their home leading them both to become American citizens. Throughout the 60’s, 70s and 80s Celia has collaborated with other Latin legends like Tito Puente, Willie Colon, Johnny Pacheco which lead her to be apart of another group Fania All-Stars. Cruz did a commercial for Eastern Airlines in Puerto Rico and a radio spot “Yo soy de Cuba, la voz, desde esta tierra lejana, soy libertad, soy WQBA, Cubanísima!” (“I am the voice of Cuba, from this land, far away, I am liberty, I am WQBA, the most Cuban!”) for WGBA (formerly La Cubanísima) in Miami.

Celia Cruz has had multiple performances, concerts and television shows. Many of them in England, France, Zaire and a return tour throughout Latin America. Even performing a free concert in 2002 in New York City at the Central Park Summer Stage (btw… that day I was starstruck with joy and tears when I saw her. Something that never ever happens to me… ever!)

On July 16, 2003, Celia Cruz passed away in her home in Fort Lee, NJ due to brain cancer at the age of 77. Even after her death she was still on tour — New York, Bronx, New Jersey and Miami — many of her fans where able to pay their respects and show there love for her. Her husband Pedro passed away in 2007 and buried inside with Celia at Woodlawn cemetery.

Although the two of them together have never had children, a great legacy of their music continues on. Celia Cruz was internationally known as “La Reina de la Salsa y La Guarachera de Cuba.” She will forever be honored and remembered as one of the most successful Cuban-American salsa singer/performer of the 20th century, earning twenty-three gold albums throughout her career.

I wanted to add this video of many Latino legends paying homage to Celia Cruz. From what I remember, I think this might have been her last performance (I will double check and update if I am incorrect) in 2003.

¡Feliz Cumpleaños a La Reina de la Salsa!


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