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Reina de la Salsa Celia Cruz is one of the legendary artists in the history of Latin music that will always be remembered as the “Queen of Salsa”. Year after year, Celia renews her collection of recorded albums, performs internationally and receives numerous awards that she adds to her huge collection of accolades. With this said, Cruz is truly the most influential female in the history of Afro-Cuban music.
Celia Cruz’s family and neighbors found out Celia’s talent to singing from listening to her croon lullabies, which she was singing to her younger relatives. When she grew up, Celia was persuading a degree of literature teacher. At this time her older cousin entered her in a competition on the talent show La Hora Del T‚ on Radio Garcia Serra, where she won her first prize. After that Celia began to work on the radio. Eventually, she switched to singing full-time when a trusted teacher advised her that she would be foolish to do otherwise. 1
Celia received her first talent award in 1947. Soon her music was in demand from the worlds of television, radio and movies. Cruz’s first appearance was in Santero, an album of Afro-Cuban cult music on the Panart label. Besides radio, Cruz worked with the group Gloria Matancera and in small theatres and cabaret. During the club’s winter seasons Celia worked as a singer at the famous Tropicana nightclub in Havana, where she befriended choreographer Roderico “Rodney” Neyra, who helped her to get the job. Together with his dance troupe they toured Mexico and Venezuela. Later Neyra introduced Cruz to Rogelio Martinez, the director of the popular band Sonora Matancera. In 1950 Cruz became lead vocalist of Sonora Matancera on their weekly show on Radio Progreso, replacing Myrta Silva, who had returned to her native Puerto Rico.2
Cruz’s first recording debut with Sonora Matancera was released in 1951 and entitled “Cao Cao Mani Picao”, with the flip-side “Mata Siguaraya”. In her 15-year tenure with the band Celia had made a long list of records. During the 50s the band appeared on television, and later toured South and Central America, the Caribbean and the U.S.A.3
Celia’s first appearance in New York happened in 1957 at the old St. Nicholas Arena. In July 1960 Cruz and the band left post-revolutionary Cuba permanently. As she told in one of her biographies, “We gave them the impression we were just going on another temporary tour abroad. That’s how we got out”.4 After departure from Cuba the band worked in Mexico for one-and-a-half years.5
After some attempts to return to her native country she never was granted the permission, even when her mother was sick and when she wanted to attend her father’s funeral. “Castro never forgave me”, she said in a 1987 interview.6 A lengthy commitment at the Hollywood Palladium, Los Angeles, in 1961 enabled Celia and Sonora Matancera to apply for U.S. residency. Later she married the band’s first trumpeter, Pedro Knight, who became her on-stage musical director and manager.7
After Celia had recorded and released several albums with maestro Tito Puente, the Anglo and European audiences got excited with salsa and it became very popular. This phenomenon was called “the Salsa of the 70’s”. Her collaborations with other maestros, such as Willy Colon, Johnny Pacheco, and la Fania All Stars were also very successful.8
The 90’s have marked a very special period in her career. In this decade, the Smithsonian Institution gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award, the Republic of Colombia awarded her the Presidential Medal in Arts, she received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Hispanic Heritage Awards, and the City of San Francisco declared October 25th, 1997 as “Celia Cruz’s Day”, to name a few.9
But undoubtedly, one of the most memorable moments in her life was in 1994, when in the White House she received from the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, the highest honor this country bestows an artist: the National Endowment for the Arts. Thus, this legendary person has not only inspired many generations by her music and performance, but also by the great talent and courage to reach for the stars and accomplish her dreams.10
1-10. Eduardo Marceles. (2004) Azucar! the Celia Cruz Biography. Reed Press.
Celia Cruz. Online Biography. Retrieved at: http://celia.lamusica.com/biography.shtml
P.S. Tomorrow we’ll start our “how to” series and discuss how to write a bullying essay.