PROFILE
Name:
Celia Cruz
Birth Date:
October 21, 1924
Birth Place:
Havana, Cuba
Nationality:
Cuban
Famous for:
Salsa singer who was also a mmber of the Afro-Cuban group La Sonora Matancera in the 1950s
BIOGRAPHY
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Regalo Del Alma

Background:

Deceased Cuban-born singer/actress Celia Cruz (1925-2003) won her third, and last, Grammy Award for her final recording Regalo Del Alma (2003). Previously, she was applauded for her salsa album La Negra Tiene Tumbao (2002, collected a Grammy Award and a Latin Grammy Award) and her duet with artist Ray Barretto in “Ritmo En El Corazon” (1989). Beginning to gain public notice with Cuban band La Sonora Matancera, Cruz recorded over 70 albums in her 50-year musical career. She was famous for her shout of “Azúcar,” which means “Sugar.” Aside from music, Cruz also branched out to acting and appeared in several films, such as La Venganza de la momia (1973), the musical drama The Mambo Kings (1992, as Evalina Montoya) and the romantic comedy The Perez Family (1995, took the supporting role of Luz Pat).

Celia Cruz died of brain cancer. She left a husband behind, Don Pedro Knight, the former trumpet player of La Sonora Matancera. After her death, Celia Cruz received a Smithsonian Lifetime Achievement Award, a National Medal of the Arts, and honorary doctorates from Yale University and the University of Miami. Her trademark orange, red, and white polka dot dress and shoes are now placed in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute of Technology. Also, a monument in front of the city hall in Union City, New Jersey, was dedicated in honor of the Cuban-born artist.


Teacher

Childhood and Family:

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, later famous as Celia Cruz, was born on October 21, 1925, in Havana, Cuba. Her parents were Catalina Alfonso and Simón Cruz.

As a child, Celia sang to some tourists who gave her a pair of shoes. Although her father wanted her to be a Spanish language teacher, teen Celia sang at cabarets with her aunt and cousin and joined talent contests. In 1947, she attended Cuba’s Conservatory of Music, during which she began admiring vocalist Paulina Alvarez.

While working with the La Sonora Matancera group, Celia met her husband, Don Pedro Knight, who was the trumpet player of the band. The couple tied the knot in July 1962. Celia, who later resided in the United States, died on July 16, 2003, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, of brain cancer.


La Sonora Matancera

Career:

Celia Cruz made some recordings for radio stations, which were not published commercially, before joining Venezuela’s Turpial label. With Turpial, she released an album with the Leonard Melody and Alfonso Larrain orchestras, in 1948. Her fascinating voice took her to the popular Cuban band La Sonora Matancera, which was searching for a replacement for their vocalist in 1950.

At first, listeners could not accept the transition, but Cruz demonstrated her talent with the single “Mata Siguaraya,” which won over the public’s heart. Her rising fame brought her to the screen, where she appeared in Rincon criollo (1950), Affair in Havana (1957) and the musical comedy Amorcito corazón (1961). Cruz remained with the musical group for 15 years and went to Latin America countries with La Sonora. After Fidel Castro ruled the country, in 1960, she and her future husband fled to the United States.

In 1961, Cruz and Knight performed at the Hollywood Palladium in New York, but left the Palladium’s orchestra a year later to pursue a solo career. With Pedro Knight as the manager, Cruz teamed up with Cuban jazz legend Tito Puente and released eight albums, none of which received satisfying success. Meanwhile, the performer also took a role in the horror movie La Venganza de la momia (1973) and the drama Juegos de sociedad (1974).

After signing to Vaya Records, Cruz worked on an album with Johnny Pacheco, trombone player and the co-owner of the Fania label (the owner of Vaya Records). Released in 1974, the album Celia y Johnny went gold and led to her involvement with the Fania All Stars, with which she toured Europe, Africa and Latin America.

She also contributed to an Eastern Air Lines commercial in Puerto Rico in the late 70s, singing the catchy phrase “Esto sí es volar.” Cruz, who was seen as Amparito in the soap opera “Roque Santeiro” (1985), made a special appearance at the Grammy Award ceremony in 1987 with Tito Puente. She then took a part in the 1988 Hollywood staging of “Salsa,” alongside Draco Cornelio Rosa.

Earning critical praise, Cruz won a Latin Grammy and a Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Performance after performing a duet with artist Ray Barretto in “Ritmo En El Corazon” (1989). On screen, her popular performance as Evalina Montoya in the musical drama The Mambo Kings (1992, starring Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante) brought her to other roles in such film as “Valentina” (1993), the romantic comedy The Perez Family (1995, took the supporting role of Luz Pat) and the soap opera “El Alma no tiene color” (1997, played Macaria).

In 1998, Cruz released the album Duets, which featured her collaboration with Willie Colon, Angela Carrasco, Oscar D’Leon, Jose Alberto “El Canario,” and la India. She also launched other albums, including La Negra Tiene Tumbao (2002), which earned her a Grammy and Latin Grammy award for Best Salsa Album. During this time, she began suffering from a brain tumor.

The second Grammy for Best Salsa Album came with Cruz’s final album, Regalo de Alma (2003), which she recorded while recuperating from brain surgery. In appreciation of her work in show business, Cruz was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Imagen Foundation in 2003. During her 50-year career, Celia Cruz recorded over 70 albums.


Awards:

  • Imagen Foundation: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003
  • Grammy: Best Salsa/Merengue Album, Regalo Del Alma, 2004
  • Grammy: Best Salsa Album, La Negra Tiene Tumbao, 2002
  • Latin Grammy: Best Salsa Album, La Negra Tiene Tumbao, 2002
  • Grammy: Best Tropical Latin Performance, “Ritmo En El Corazon,” 1989
  • Latin Grammy: Best Tropical Latin Performance, “Ritmo En El Corazon,” 1989
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