Celia Cruz was one of the most famous Cuban salsa singers. She was nicknamed the Queen of Salsa, with more than thirty-six albums, recorded with some other leading singers in Latin music. Celia worked as a singer for more than forty years, and during that time, she became well known for her vigorous work, great personality, and her emotional way of singing. During her performances, she was well known for being able to improvise lyrics. She was an artist with over six decades of success making her an inspiration to the Latin community as well as the rest of the world.
The talented singer was born on October 21, 1925, in the Santo Suarez neighborhood of Havana. Her singing talent was obvious even when she was young, but instead of pursuing a career in singing, she studied to be a teacher. This was because her father told her that he did not believe that singing was a worthwhile profession for a woman. Still, she went after a career in singing, after encouragement from her mother, teacher and aunt. Celia Cruz began singing in talent shows and doing recordings for radio stations, but neither were sold for money. Her first recordings were made in 1978 in Venezuela with the Turpial label. She sang these with the Leonard Melody and Alfonso Larrain orchestras. In 1950, she was called in to be the lead singer of a Cuban band, La Sonara Matancera. At first, the public did not like her, because she was black, but eventually, because of her hard work, talent and the fact that the orchestra stood by her, the public accepted her, and she became famous throughout Cuba.
Celia was a member of La Sonora for fifteen years, and then in July 15, 1960, she decided to migrate to the United States to pursue her singing career. It only took her one year to become a legal citizen of the US. After becoming a citizen in 1961, Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro was furious and barred Cruz returning to Cuba, enforcing the ban even after her parents’ deaths. Celia for her part has vowed not to return to Cuba until such time as the Castro regime is disposed. Although Celia Cruz had made numerous recordings with La Sonora Mantancera, she experienced little success in the United States in the 1960s. She spoke English well, but she refused to record in the language. Younger Latin Americans at the time were gravitating away from big-band dance music and toward rock-and-roll, in both Latin and non-Latin inflections. Celia’s fortunes began to improve when she meshed her talents with those of the musicians and bandleaders who were creating the new music called salsa—chief among them Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco and Willie Colón.
Salsa was firmly rooted in Cuban dance traditions, but it was high-energy new hybrid that incorporated elements of jazz, traditional Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and other forms. Celia on stage was a commanding figure whose control over audiences resulted not only from her flamboyant, stage-filling attire, but also from her ability to engage them in call-and-response patterns that spring from salsa’s Afro-Cuban roots. Celia was any music promoter’s dream because of the added value she brought to every contract. She offered more than just interesting musical interpretations: Celia transformed herself into a stage image projected well beyond any performance. Her magic included a distinctive orchestra sound, staging, scenery, and props, backup choruses, and a lot of color and special effects. Celia was very fond of sunglasses. They had to be prescriptions and she ordered them in exaggerated sizes and adorned with small, bright-colored stones to make them more festive. Wigs were the second most important prop for Celia in the creation of her image. Besides Queen of Salsa, she could also be considered Queen of Wigs. She had them in every color – though she preferred blond or silver – and every style, to cover her curly hair. This artist with the chameleon image confided that her collection of wigs was not extravagant, that it seemed so only...
Bibliography: Marceles, Eduardo. Azúcar! The Biography of Celia Cruz. New York: Reed Press, 2004
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