"La Guarachera de Cuba," "The Queen of Salsa." Celia Cruz acquired many nicknames throughout her illustrious 50-year career. Born to a poor family in Havana, Cuba, she began her career after winning a radio station contest. Her talent earned her admission to the Havana Conservatory and in 1950, she joined La Sonora Matancera, Cuba’s most popular music group. She became famous, playing in Havana’s most renownded nightclubs, including the Tropicana.
During a tour with La Sonora Matancera in Mexico in 1960, Celia decided not to return to Cuba. Fidel Castro, the oppressive communist leader, had come to power. Later based in New York and Miami, Celia worked with big name band leaders such as Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colón, and Ray Barretto during the 60s and 70s. She worked closely with the famous Estefan couple beginning in the 1980s, singing with Gloria and producing with Emilio. She won a Grammy in 1989 for "Ritmo en el Corazón" and a best salsa Grammy this year for "La Negra Tiene Tumbao."
Celia Cruz died July 16 from complications of a brain tumor. One of the Hispanic community’s biggest ambassadors to world, Celia Cruz was a beacon of good morals, good music and the passion for life found in the Latino world. Known for her vivacious personality, crazy wigs and 40-year marriage to La Sonora Matancera’s Pedro Knight, Celia Cruz was also a figure to be admired. She was a megastar in field dominated by men and she prospered not only as a woman, but a black woman.
—Chris Palencia, 15, Torrance HS
Celia Cruz was perhaps the most recognized Latin singer of all time. My mom made a comment the day after she died, and I was shocked because I had been unaware. My entire life I loved hearing her scream her favorite word, "AZUCAR!" which means sugar. For those of you not familiar with the word’s significance, Celia said it at every performance. In fact, if you ask virtually any person from the Latin world what Azucar reminds them of, they would instantly say Celia Cruz. She was very proud of her home, Cuba, so she would recognize it by yelling out the name of one of the things for which Cuba is best-known, the sugar canes.
I never saw one of Celia Cruz’s concerts in person. However, I recognized her face every time I saw her perform on stage while my family and I watched TV. We smiled as she moved to the beat of her songs as she sang, of course leaving the more complicated moves to her crew of young and talented dancers. Her performances were always of the same, spirited quality. She sang her heart out with her husband, Pedro Knight, by her side. Her costumes were vibrant and extravagant, with a unique quality that only Celia Cruz could pull off. Everything she wore was custom made: her wigs, dresses and even her shoes. Her shoes were what intrigued me the most. The heels were made clear, so when you looked at her on stage it appeared that she had no heel. It defined her arch and had a very incredible look. Her wigs always shocked me! When I was younger one of the main reasons of seeing her was to see what wig she would come out with next. She loved to wear hot pinks, bright blues, greens, reds, anything to draw people’s attention. Celia always knew how to add that dramatic flare to her look.
It was very sad to hear that the Queen of Salsa was no longer with us. However, rest assured that her music will live on. I will continue listening to her upbeat and spicy songs on the radio and on some of our CDs. Her music will continue to be played and loved by all. No longer will I see the lively Celia Cruz rocking out on stage, but I will always remember what a beautiful person she was and the wonderful songs she left us to remember her with.
–Valentina Cardenas, 16, Ramona Convent (Alhambra)