Celia CruzCelia Cruz (Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso) (October 21, 19241 - July 16, 2003) was a Cuban Salsa music singer. Cruz was born in the Santo Suarez neighborhood, a poor area of Havana. When she was little, she earned her first pair of shoes by singing to a couple of tourists.
As a teenager, her aunt would take her and her cousin to cabarets to sing. Cruz that way started to learn what the show business was like. Her father, however, encouraged her to keep attending school, in hopes that she would become a teacher. But soon, her artistic dreams were further supported by her own teacher, who told her that Cruz could make in one day what most teachers make in one year. (Remarkably, another star of Cuban music, La Lupe, was a teacher).
Cruz began singing on talent contests, often winning cakes and also opportunities to participate on more contests. In 1950, her life changed when the leading singer of a famous Cuban band named La Sonora Matancera returned to Puerto Rico, and Cruz was called to fill in. Hired permanently by the orchestra, she wasn't well accepted by the public at first. However, the orchestra stood by their decision of hiring her, and soon Cruz became famous throughout Cuba. During the 15 years she was a member, the band travelled all over Latin America, becoming known as Cafe Con Leche ("coffee with milk" or "white coffee").
In 1960, Cruz moved to the United States, becoming a Cuban exilee. A year later, in 1961, she and her orchestra began performing at the Hollywood Palladium. Then she and her lead trumpeter, Pedro Knight, fell in love, and the two of them were married in 1962. In 1965, Cruz and her husband left the orchestra. Her solo career advanced, while Knight's career languished. Eventually, he became her manager. She was by then a US citizen and never returned to Cuba.
In 1966, Cruz and Tito Puente began an association that would lead to eight albums for Tico Records. The albums were not as successful as expected, however, and later, Cruz joined the Vaya Records label. There, she joined accomplished pianist Larry Harlow and was soon headlining a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Her 1974 album, with Johnny Pacheco, Celia y Johnny, went gold, and Cruz soon found herself in a group named the Fania All Stars, which was an ensemble of Salsa superstars from every orchestra signed by the Fania label (owner of Vaya Records). With the Fania All Stars, Celia had the opportunity of visiting England, France, Zaire, and to return to tour Latin America. In the late 1970s, she participated in an Eastern Airlines commercial in Puerto Rico, singing the catchy phrase ˇˇˇEsto sí es volar!!! (This really is Flying!!!). She also made popular her slogan "ˇAzúcar!" ("Sugar!").
During the 1980s, Cruz made frequent tours in Latin America, doing multiple concert and television shows wherever she went, and singing both with younger stars and stars of her own era. She began a crossover of sorts, when she participated in the 1988 Hollywood production of Salsa, alongside Draco Cornelio Rosa.
In 1991 Cruz sang along with Cuban pop star Martika on the song "Mi Tierra", about a young Cuban-American woman longing for her homeland. The song became a crossover hit in over 10 countries (excluding the U.S.A.) and won Cruz a legion of younger fans.
In 1992, she participated, along with Andy Garcia and Antonio Banderas in The Mambo Kings, and, during the 1990s also, she became friends with popular show host, magazine editor and actress Cristina Saralegui. She also made anniversary albums with La Sonora Matancera during that decade.
In 2001, she made a new album, and Johnny Pacheco was one of the directors of the album.
She began 2003 by having a successful surgery to correct knee problems that she had for a few years.
Cruz made 22 Gold albums, and she earned over 100 awards internationally. She also performed once at the Grammys.
At the age of 78, she planned on touring for many years to come. She said she would be on tour until she dies. However, on July 16, 2003, she died of a cancerous brain tumor at her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Three days earlier, another Cuban star, Compay Segundo, had died.
Cruz stated many times it was her dream to return to a Cuba without Fidel Castro as its leader. She was not able to achieve that dream, but, after dying, her body was taken on a tour of United States cities with large Cuban populations so that many fans could pay their respects to her.