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Tue, 10.21.1924

Celia Cruz, Afro Cuban Singer born

Celia Cruz

*Celia Cruz was born on this date in 1924. She was an Afro Cuban entertainer.

She was one of fourteen children, born in the small village of Barrio Santra Suarez, Havana, Cuba. Cruz was drawn to music from an early age. Her first pair of shoes was a gift from a tourist for whom she sang. A young Cruz sang her younger siblings to sleep in school productions and community get-togethers. Soon she was taken to lounges and nightclubs by an aunt and was introduced to the world of professional music.

Cruz then began to enter and win local talent shows. While her father attempted to guide her toward a career as a teacher, Cruz continued to be lured by music. In a 1997 interview, she said, "I have fulfilled my father's wish to be a teacher as, through my music, I teach generations of people about my culture and the happiness that is found in just living life. As a performer, I want people to feel their hearts sing and their spirits soar." While attending Cuba's Conservatory of Music in 1947, Cruz found her earliest inspiration in the singing of Afro Cuban vocalist Paulina Alveraz.

Her first break came when she was invited to join the band La Sonora Matancera in 1950. Cruz remained with the group for fifteen years, touring throughout the world. She married the band's trumpet player Pedro Knight on July 14, 1962.  With Fidel Castro assuming control of Cuba in 1960, she and her husband refused to return to their homeland and became citizens of the United States. Although they initially signed to perform with the orchestra of the Hollywood Palladium, they eventually settled in New York.

Cruz left the band and pursued a solo career with Tito Puente. Despite releasing eight albums together, the collaboration failed to achieve commercial success. Their collaborations resumed their partnership with a special appearance at the Grammy Award ceremonies 1987.

She recorded with Cheo Feliciano, Oscar D’Leon, and Hector Rodriquez in the mid-to-late-'60s. Cruz’s first success since leaving Sonora Matancera came in 1974 when she recorded a duo album, Celia and Johnny, with a trombone player and Fania's co-owner. She subsequently began appearing with the Fania All-Stars.

Cruz's popularity reached its highest level when she appeared in the 1992 film, The Mambo Kings. Cruz also appeared in the film, The Perez Family. She sang a duet version of "Loco de Amor" with David Byrne in the Jonathan Demme movie, Something Wild. In 1998, Cruz released an album featuring her singing with Willie Colon, Angela Carrasco, Oscar D'Leon, Jose Alberto "El Canario," and La India. Cruz continued to record and perform until sidelined by a brain tumor in 2002.

While recovering from surgery to remove the tumor, she entered the studio in early 2003 to record Regalo de Alma. Her surgery partially succeeded, and Celia Cruz died on July 16, 2003. The passing of the "Queen of Salsa" left a huge gap in Latin music and a remarkable catalog to document her reign.

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