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Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso (October 21, 1925 – July 16, 2003) was a Cuban singer and the most popular Latin artist of the 20th century, gaining twenty-three gold albums during her career. She received a star in the "Walk of Fame" in Hollywood. The U.S. President Bill Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Arts in 1994. She was renowned internationally as the "Queen of Salsa", "La Guarachera de Cuba", as well as "The Queen of Latin Music".[1][2]

Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz, 1957.jpg
Cruz in 1957
Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso

(1925-10-21)October 21, 1925
DiedJuly 16, 2003(2003-07-16) (aged 77)
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery
New York City, New York
  • Singer
  • actress
Years active1948–2003
Home townFort Lee, New Jersey
  • Simón Cruz
  • Catalina Alfonso
  • Dolores (sister)
  • Gladys (sister)
  • Bárbaro (brother)
Musical career
  • Vocals

Throughout her career, Celia Cruz interpreted and internationally popularized tropical rhythms such as Son, Guaguancó, Rumba, Guaracha and Bolero. However, the genre that led to stardom was Salsa.[3]

She began her career in her native Cuba, earning recognition as a vocalist of the popular musical group Sonora Matancera, a musical association that lasted fifteen years (1950-1965). In the 1960s, after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Cruz left her native country, becoming one of the symbols and spokespersons of the Cuban community in exile.[4] Cruz continued her career, first in Mexico, and then in the United States, the country that she took as her definitive residence. In the 1970s she was fully incorporated into the Salsa genre, especially after her musical association with other artists of the genre within the Fania All-Stars. During the last years of her career, Cruz had already become a myth of Latin American music. Her constant evolution in the world of music, helped her to remain in force practically until her death and to conquer new generations of followers. Her career formed an invaluable legacy and inescapable reference for future generations who discover in her a powerful and prolific source of inspiration. Some of the songs performed by her are part of the cultural heritage of Latin America. Among the most famous are Quimbara, Burundanga, La Vida Es Un Carnaval and La negra tiene tumbao, among many others.[5] Her musical legacy is made up of a total of 37 studio albums, in addition to many other special recordings, records in live or associations with other singers. In her career she was awarded numerous prizes, recognitions and distinctions, including two Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards. In addition to her prolific career in music, Cruz also made some punctual interventions as an actress in movies and telenovelas.

Celia Cruz also made famous the expression ¡Azúcar! (Sugar!) Which she adopted and it remained in the collective memory as her identifying phrase, which she shouted as a carnival ad inciting fun. With a unique style and an iconic image of unsurpassed attractiveness thanks to a charismatic and musical talent that is difficult to replicate, Celia Cruz is considered an authentic symbol of Latin culture worldwide.


Early lifeEdit

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso was born in the Santos Suárez neighborhood of Havana, Cuba. Her father, Simón Cruz, was a railway stoker, and her mother, Catalina Alfonso Ramos, a housewife. Cruz shared her childhood with her three brothers: Dolores, Gladys and Bárbaro and numerous cousins. Her chores included lullabies for the little ones. So she began to sing. Her father wanted her to be a school teacher, and not without regret she tried to satisfy him and studied teaching. When she was about to finish the race and left to enter the National Conservatory of Music.[6]

Meanwhile, Cruz participated in radio programs for amateurs, such as La Hora del Té or La Suprema Corte del Arte, in which she won first prizes such as a cake or a silver chain, until by her performance of the tango Nostalgia received in payment 15 dollars. She later sang in the orchestras Gloria Matancera and Sonora Caracas.

Celia Cruz in the 1950s with the members of the Sonora Matancera in Havana



In 1948, Roderico Rodney Neyra founded the group of dancers and singers Las Mulatas de Fuego. Cruz was hired with this group as a singer, reaching great success and making presentations in Mexico and Venezuela. With the Mulatas de Fuego Cruz recorded some songs. Shortly thereafter, Cruz began to sing on musical programs at Radio Cadena Suaritos, along with a group that performed Yoruba choruses and rhythms and recorded a song with the singer Obdulio Morales. The songs she recorded at that moment would be incorporated later to one of the first compilations of her work in LP format.

In 1950, Cruz met the businessman Rafael Sotolongo who sought her out because he wanted her to sing with the Sonora Matancera, at that time the most popular and successful music group in Cuba. This is because the lead vocalist of the orchestra, the Puerto Rican singer Myrta Silva had decided to leave the group to return to Puerto Rico, leaving the vacancy for a female voice available. Her income was approved by the director of the group, Rogelio Martínez. Upon hearing of this interview the managers of the radio where she worked, was arbitrarily dismissed.

Sonora MatanceraEdit

In her first rehearsal with Sonora Matancera, Cruz met her future husband Pedro Knight, who was the band's second trumpeter. Cruz debuted with the group on August 3, 1950. Initially Cruz was not received with enthusiasm by the public, but Rogelio Martínez, had faith in her. On December 15, 1950, Cruz recorded her first songs with the group, which were a resounding success. Her "musical marriage" with the Sonora Matancera lasted fifteen years. That's where the successes of Burundanga, El Yerberito Moderno, Tu voz, Pa 'la pigeon and many others come from. In total Celia recorded 188 songs with the Matancera. With the group, Celia also made short musical interventions in Mexican and Cuban films.

After Cuban RevolutionEdit

On July 15, 1960, when the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro began, a contract for the Sonora Matancera in Mexico arose. Cruz never imagined that she would ever step on Cuban soil again. The new Cuban regime looked with bad eyes that the group will accept offers to work abroad, specifically in the United States. Thus, the Castro regime arbitrarily forbade her to return to Cuba. When she completes the month of stay in Mexico, she receives the news of the death of her father Simón Cruz. In 1961, Cruz and the Sonora left for the United States for a contract. Celia began performing solo performances without the orchestra. She performed at a recital at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. In 1962, before the refusal of the government of her country to allow her to return to Cuban soil, Celia acquired a house in New York. Although she tried to return to Cuba to see her mother sick, the Cuban government forbade her to return. A fatal day for Celia arrived on April 7 of that year. When she was preparing to act, she received the news of the death of her mother Catalina Alfonso, who had been struggling with terminal bladder cancer. In that same year, on July 14, Cruz was married in civil ceremony with Pedro Knight after a romance of several years. Cruz and the Sonora Matancera made their first tour outside the American continent, visiting Europe and Japan, where they performed with Tito Puente. In 1965, Cruz would culminate a vertiginous fifteen years with the Sonora Matancera. Cruz began a solo career and her husband Pedro Knight decided to leave his position at Sonora Matancera to become her representative, arranger and personal director. In parallel, Cruz had adopted the American nationality..

In 1966, Cruz is contacted by Tito Puente to perform with his orchestra. Cruz and Puente started an association that released five albums. She also recorded albums with the Orquesta de Memo Salamanca, Juan Bruno Tarraza and Lino Frías under the TICO Records label. From this time one of her great successes is revealed: Bemba Colorá. Eventually Cruz joined Vaya Records. A musical change made her enter to the Salsa music. In 1973, Cruz teamed up with the pianist and exclusive artist of the Fania Records label Larry Harlow and led an Afro-Cuban music concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. There Cruz interpreted Divine Grace, her first song of the Salsa genre and the door to this new rhythm. The album resulting from this meeting was produced by the now defunct Jerry Masucci, who is considered one of the creators of the Salsa genre along with the Dominican musician Johnny Pacheco. Later, she participated in a legendary concert recorded live at Yankee Stadium with The Fania All-Stars, a group composed of leaders of Latino groups that recorded for the Fania label.

Salsa music and The Fania All-StarsEdit

Celia Cruz performing in Paris at the Olympia in 1980

Cruz signed a contract with the record company of Masucci, VAYA (Subsidiary of Fania). In 1974 she released the album Celia & Johnny, with Johnny Pacheco, who won a great sucess. Cruz integrates fully with the Fania All-Stars orchestra, which was a combination of the musicians of each orchestra that played for the musical label Fania (like Johnny Pacheco, Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón and others) With the Fania All-Stars, Cruz had the opportunity to visit the United Kingdom, France and Zaire. In 1977, Cruz records her first record with the backing of the trombonist and salsa orchestrator Willie Colón, a fusion that would be repeated with great success in 1981 and in 1987.

In 1982, Celia was reunited with the Sonora Matancera, and recorded the album Feliz Encuentro. In that year the singer receives the first tribute of her career at Madison Square Garden in New York. In 1987, Cruz performed a concert in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. That concert was recognized by the publisher of the Guinness Book of Records as the largest outdoor free entry. The concert gathered 250,000 people. In 1989 she won her first Grammy Award for the album Ritmo en el corazón. She was also invited to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Sonora Matancera in Central Park in New York. The decline of Salsa success gradually brings the end of Celia's musical association with the Fania All Stars.

Later yearsEdit

In 1990 Cruz managed to return to Cuba. She is invited to make a presentation at the US base in Guantanamo. When she came out of this presentation she took in a bag a few grams of earth from Cuba, the same one she asked to be placed in her coffin when she died.

Although she had previously made musical presentations in Mexican and Cuban films, in 1992 Celia debuted as an actress in the American film Mambo Kings, along with Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas. A year later she made her debut as a television actress in the Mexican telenovela Valentina, along with Verónica Castro for the Televisa network.

In 1995, Celia has a special participation in the American film The Perez Family, along with Alfred Molina and Anjelica Huston. In 1997 she starred again for Televisa the Mexican telenovela El alma no tiene color, a remake of the classic Mexican film Angelitos negros, and where Cruz plays the role of a black woman who gives birth to a white daughter. On October 25 of that year the city of San Francisco officially declared that date as "Celia Cruz Day".

In 1998 she released the album Mi vida es cantar, from which one of her most successful themes is revealed: La Vida Es Un Carnaval. In 1999, she performed with Luciano Pavarotti for the Pavarotti and Friends concert. In 2000, Cruz released a new album under the auspices of Sony Music: Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night of Salsa, where she recorded again with Tito Puente, who died a little later. Thanks to this album, Cruz was awarded with her first Latin Grammy. In 2001, the album Siempre Viviré makes her the creditor of her second Latin Grammy. In that same year, she performed with Marc Anthony in a tribute to Aretha Franklin for VH1.

In 2002, Cruz released the album, La Negra Tiene Tumbao, where she ventured into modern variants of Caribbean rhythms, influenced by rap and hip hop. For this record she obtains her third Latin Grammy and her second American Grammy.

Dexter Lehtinen, Celia Cruz, Alonso R. del Portillo, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and Pedro Knight in May 1992

Personal lifeEdit

During July 1960, following the revolution in Cuba, La Sonora Matancera was on tour in Mexico when the band members decided to settle in the United States. Castro vowed that none of the artists would ever be allowed back to Cuba. Cruz attempted to return when her mother died in 1962 but was not granted government permission. Cruz became a US citizen in 1961 and a year later married Sonora's trumpet player Pedro Knight, who became her manager and musical director.


Celia Cruz's mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York

On July 16, 2003, Cruz died of brain cancer at her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, at the age of 77.[7][8][9] Knight was there for her while she was going through cancer treatments. She had no children with him. After her death, her body was taken to Miami's Freedom Tower, where more than 200,000 fans paid their final respects. Multiple vigils occurred worldwide in cities such as Havana, Miami, and Cali (the Cali vigil became notorious in Colombian history due to its three-day span).[10] Knight had Cruz buried in a granite mausoleum that he had built in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx. Knight chose the plot on which it stands, which is near the gravestones of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, because it was accessible to fans and had four windows built into it so that fans could see inside when paying their respects. Knight himself was buried with Cruz in the same mausoleum following his death on February 3, 2007.[11] An epilogue in her autobiography notes that, in accordance with her wishes, Cuban soil which she had saved from a visit to Guantánamo Bay was used in her entombment.[citation needed]


Celia Cruz Plaza in Union City, New Jersey

Through a formidable work ethic, Cruz rose to the very top in her genre; a genre that was traditionally male-dominated.[12][13] In February 2004, for her last album, Regalo del Alma, she won a posthumous award at the Premios Lo Nuestro for best salsa release of the year. It was announced in December 2005 that a musical called Azucar! would open in Tenerife before touring the world. The name comes from Cruz's well-known catchphrase of "¡Azúcar!" (“Sugar!”).

In 2003 a music school was opened in the Bronx, named the "Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music." Pedro Knight visited this school before his death to meet the students and share stories about her life. On June 4, 2004, the heavily Cuban-American community of Union City, New Jersey heralded its annual Cuban Day Parade by dedicating its new Celia Cruz Park (also known as Celia Cruz Plaza), which features a sidewalk star in her honor, at 31st Street and Bergenline Avenue, with Cruz's widower, Pedro Knight, present. There are four other similar dedications to Cruz around the world.[14] Cruz's star has expanded into Union City's "Walk of Fame",[15] as new marble stars are added each spring to honor Latin entertainment and media personalities, such as merengue singer Joseíto Mateo, salsa singer La India, Cuban musician Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Cuban tenor Beny Moré,[16] Tito Puente, Spanish language television news anchor Rafael Pineda, salsa pioneer Johnny Pacheco,[17] singer/bandleader Gilberto Santa Rosa and music promoter Ralph Mercado.[18]

On May 18, 2005, the National Museum of American History, administered by the Smithsonian Institution and located in Washington, D.C., opened "¡Azúcar!", an exhibit celebrating the life and music of Celia Cruz. The exhibit highlights important moments in Cruz's life and career through photographs, personal documents, costumes, videos, and music.

On September 26, 2007, through May 25, 2008, Celia, a musical based on the life of Celia Cruz, played at the Off-Broadway venue New World Stages. The show won four 2008 HOLA Awards from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.[19]

On March 16, 2011, Celia Cruz was honored by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative postage stamp. The Cruz stamp was one of a group of five stamps honoring Latin music greats, also including Selena, Tito Puente, Carmen Miranda, and Carlos Gardel.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History collaborated with photographer Robert Weingarten to create an object-based portrait of Celia Cruz featuring artifacts in the museum. The portrait was unveiled October 3, 2012.[20]

On October 21, 2013, Google honored her with a Google Doodle.[21] At 41st American Music Awards, American singer Jennifer Lopez performed a medley of Cruz's songs.[22]

In 2013, Cruz was inducted into the New Jersey Hall Fame. In October 2015, Telemundo premiered an 80-episode docu-drama based on Cruz's life, Celia.[23]



  • Salón México (Mexico, 1950)
  • Una gallega en La Habana (Mexico, 1952)
  • ¡Olé... Cuba! (Mexico/Cuba, 1957)
  • Affair in Havana (USA/Cuba, 1957)
  • Amorcito Corazon (Mexico, 1960)
  • Salsa (Documentary, 1976)
  • Salsa (USA, 1988)
  • "Fires Within" (USA, 1991)
  • The Mambo Kings (USA, 1992)
  • Valentina (TV) (Mexico, 1993)
  • The Perez Family (USA, 1995) Luz Pat
  • El alma no tiene color (TV) (Mexico, 1997)
  • ¡Celia Cruz: Azúcar! (TV) (Tribute, USA, 2003)
  • Soul Power (Documentary of Kinshasa, Zaire Music Festival 1974) (USA, 2008)
  • CELIA, Celia Cruz Bio-Drama (2015 on Telemundo)

Grammy AwardsEdit

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1989 "Ritmo En El Corazon" Best Tropical Latin Performance Won
2000 Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night of Salsa Best Salsa Performance Won
2001 "Siempre Viviré" Best Tropical Traditional Album Won
2003 La Negra Tiene Tumbao Best Salsa Album Won
2003 Regalo del Alma Best Salsa/Merengue Album Won
2004 Regalo del Alma Best Salsa Album Won
2016 Herself Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Won

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Pareles, Jon (December 14, 1992). "Review/Pop; The Queen of Latin Music Takes It From the Top". Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  2. ^ "Celia Cruz's Shoes". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-06-09.
  3. ^ Unknown parameter |fechaacceso= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |título= ignored (|title= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |autor= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ When Fidel Castro banned Celia Cruz
  5. ^ El Heraldo: Ten Greatests Songs of "The Queen of Salsa" Celia Cruz
  6. ^ Unknown parameter |fechaacceso= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |título= ignored (|title= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |autor= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Ellen Pearlman (April 1, 2008). "Azucar! Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz at the New World Theater". The Brooklyn Rail.
  8. ^ Townsend Rosa; Vicent, Manuel (July 18, 2003). "La muerte de Celia Cruz consterna al exilio cubano y a los artistas de la isla". EDICIONES EL PAÍS, S.L. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  9. ^ "¡Azúcar en el cielo!". El Diario de Hoy. July 17, 2003. Archived from the original on October 21, 2013.
  10. ^ "Azúcar: Google celebra a Celia Cruz" (in Spanish). Telemundo. October 21, 2013. Archived from the original on October 23, 2013. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
  11. ^ Brady, Emily (February 25, 2007). "Amid the Gravestones, a Final Love Song". The New York Times.
  12. ^ "Music: The Definitive Visual History". New York: DK Publishing. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  13. ^ "Music: The Definitive Visual History". Gale Virtual Reference Library. New York: DK Publishing. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  14. ^ Rosero, Jessica (June 2, 2004). "Homage to Celia Cruz: UC to pay tribute to Queen of Salsa with events, park dedication". The Hudson Reporter.
  15. ^ Fernandez, Lucio; Karabin, Gerard (2010). Union City in Pictures. Book Press NY. p. 74
  16. ^ Rosero, Jessica (June 18, 2006). "Viva la comunidad Cubano North Hudson celebrates at the annual Cuban Day Parade". The Hudson Reporter.
  17. ^ Rosero, Jessica (May 26, 2006). "'La vida es un carnaval' North Hudson celebrates 6th annual Cuban Day Parade". The Hudson Reporter.
  18. ^ Staab, Amanda (October 5, 2008). "UC first stop for Latin Grammies". The Union City Reporter. pp. 1, 21
  19. ^ Celia Archived 2012-10-11 at the Wayback Machine at Lortel Archives; accessed August 24, 2010
  20. ^ "National Museum of American History Reveals Celia Cruz Portrait". Newsdesk. Smithsonian Institution. October 3, 2012
  21. ^ Gowens, Otis (2013-10-21). "Celia Cruz, queen of Salsa, gets Google Doodle". Cox Media Group.
  22. ^ "Jennifer Lopez rinde tributo a Celia Cruz en los American Music Awards". The Huffington Post (in Spanish). AOL. November 24, 2013. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  23. ^

External linksEdit