Celia Cruz [1924-2003]
Celia Cruz was born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso on October 21, 1924 in Havana, Cuba. She began her career singing in cabarets and got her big break in 1950 when she became lead singer for the internationally famous group, La Sonora Matancera.
In 1959, the year of the Cuban revolution, Celia Cruz left Cuba to tour with the Sonora Matancera and never returned. She restarted her career in the New York salsa scene, performing with Tito Puente with whom she produced seven albums.
In 1974 she produced an album titled Celia and Johnny with Johnny Pacheco, the Dominican-born musical director of the FANIA record label, and went on to record and internationally tour with the Fania All-Stars, a salsa super-group composed of musicians from every orchestra signed to the label. Her collaboration with Puerto Rican pianist and arranger Papo Lucca also produced several successful albums.
Celia wore eccentric costumes, commanding the stage in spectacular dresses, wigs, and heels often rousing the audience with her powerful voice and signature exclamation, “¡Azúcar!” (Sugar!)
In 1990 Cruz won a Grammy Award for her album, Ritmo en el Corazón, recorded with Ray Barretto. In 1992 she starred in the film The Mambo Kings. She was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Until her death in 2003, she lived in New Jersey with her husband and musical director, Pedro Knight. Considered the "Queen of Salsa," Celia Cruz was one of the most popular Cuban musicians of the 20th century with 23 certified gold albums.