Celia Cruz the Queen of Salsa


by Linda Castillo

From her custom made dresses to her infamous catch phrase ‘Azucar! Azucar!’ Celia Cruz was a world-renowned artist who commanded the stage with her strong voice, electrifying presence and rhythm. Celia made many contributions to American culture and popular music . Through her music she also celebrated the Latino identity and expression which all Latinos related to. She rightfully became known as the Queen of Salsa.

Born on October 21, 1924 in Havana, Cuba, Celia was destined to become a singer. Her grandmother noted that she could sing even before she could talk. She began performing at an early age in Cuba, but her big break came when she became the lead vocalist for Sonora Matancera, a tropical band. She began touring with the band in the 1950s. Once the tour ended, Cruz became a U.S. citizen in 1961 and never returned to Cuba as it was at this time that the political landscape in Cuba shifted when Fidel Castro came to power.

Azucar The Life and Music of Celia Cruz

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Celia settled in New York City where the music scene was booming with the fusions of new sounds from Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans, and other Latinos. During this time the sound of salsa music was born from Cuban and other Afro-Caribbean mixed musical genres. Celia Cruz held her own in the male-dominated world of Afro-Latin music from her time as the only female singer of Sonora Matancera to a singer in the orchestras of Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colon and the Fania All Stars.

¡Azúcar! was the infamous cry that Celia Cruz would bolt out to energize the crowd and add her own personal flavor to the music. Azucar translated means sugar. Azucar had a direct relationship to her homeland Cuba because it was one of the main agricultural products with linkage to the diversity of Cuban culture and to the violence of slavery.

Sabor literally means flavor. In Afro-Caribbean music there are many references to food, and gustatory terms to describe the way the music is performed—danced, sung, played. (Salsa, for example, means sauce.) Sabor refers to the mastery of the performance. To have sabor in music means knowing how to do something extremely well. Many believe that Celia Cruz was the embodiment of sabor. – Smithsonian National Museum of American History

During her career, Celia evolved touching new generations with her mesmerizing music. From performing mambos in the 1940s to transforming the sounds of salsa from the 1960s to early 1980s. Celia’s musical career spanned over six decades earning her multiple recognitions including five Grammy Awards, many Gold Records, and countless other honors and Lifetime Achievement Awards.

True to her reinvention Celia continued to make music well into her late seventies. At the end of 1990s she released “La negra tiene tumbao” captivating a new generation of fans. Celia passed away on July 16, 2003 from brain cancer. And while Celia is no longer with us, her legacy and music will continue to touch the hearts and souls of future generations. Her accomplishments as a musical performer and humanitarian make her a central figure and contributor to the history of Latin music and ambassador of Latino culture.

Linda Castillo is the Founder and Executive Editor of http://www.modernlatina.com/. She writes on topics that empower and inspire Latinas including art, motherhood, green living, culture, travel, and issues transforming the Latino community. Linda has earned a B.S. in Business and a M.S. in Mass Communications from San Jose State University.