The Queen of Salsa and Tropical music was fiercely proud of her Afro-Latin heritage.
Often, when we speak about Black History month, we sometimes forget that there are descendants of Africans in places other than the United States. We also tend to forget that countries in the Caribbean and South America, such as Brazil, Puerto Rico and Cuba, were all stops or destinations on the Atlantic Slave Trade, just like ports in what would eventually become the United States.
Úrsula Hilaria Celia Cruz was the most popular Latin musician of the 20th century. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1925, and the oldest of 14 children, she started singing at an early age, and immersed herself in the Latin singers of the day, as well as music such of Santeria, a religion of Caribbean origin that is pantheistic and derived from the descendants of Black West African peoples. Originally planning on becoming a literature instructor, she eventually studied music at Havana's National Conservatory of Music, and soon began singing on local radio in Cuba.
She eventually became the biggest star in Cuba’s music scene, but all of that would come crashing to a halt when Fidel Castro assumed power. Cruz and her husband, who were on a tour of the United States at the time, were denied entry back into Cuba to the due to their political beliefs and open criticism of Castro. (Cruz was even denied a temporary visa in 1962 to bury her mother).
Celia Cruz performs at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Netherlands on July 25, 1987. Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns.
Undaunted, she slowly rebuilt her career. In the 1970’s, she started working with bandleader Johnny Pacheco and signed to Fania Records, where she became the biggest Spanish-speaking musician on the planet, playing to sellout stadium-sized crowds anywhere in the world she performed. She had a strict and hard personal work ethic, which helped put her at the top of a genre that, until then, had been solely the domain of men.
She died in 2003 of brain cancer. In the years since her passing, her legend as an ambassador of Latin, Caribbean, Salsa and Tropical music forms continues unabated.
2. Tu Voz
5. Lagrimas Negras (Tito Puente & Celia Cruz)
7. Cuando Tú Me Quieras
8. Elegua Quiere Tambo
9. La Sopa En Botella
10. Yerbero Moderno
11. Ritmo De Mi Cuba
12. Bemba Colora (live, 1973) (with the Fania All-Stars)
Love to you all.
Ben "Bear" Brown Jr., owner