A dazzling performer of many genres of Afro-Caribbean music, Celia Cruz had a powerful contralto voice, exuberant stage presence, and a unique style that endeared her to fans from different nationalities and across generations. One of few women to succeed in the male-dominated world of salsa music, the “Queen of Salsa” performed for more than five decades and recorded more than 50 albums. Pair her influential music career with several outstanding performances on screen, and Cruz became the iconic “Latin Triple Threat.”

Celia Cruz was born Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso on October 21, 1925, in a working-class neighborhood of Havana, Cuba. She began singing professionally on Cuban radio and in nightclubs in the late 1940s and studied music theory and voice at a music academy in Havana from 1947 to 1950. In 1950, she began to sing with the popular Cuban orchestra La Sonora Matancera. Over the next 15 years, they collaborated on a number of legendary recordings, including “Cao, cao maní picao,” “Bemba colorá,” and “Burundanga,” and performed diverse Afro-Cuban music throughout the Caribbean, South America, and the U.S. Celia and La Sonora Matancera also appeared together in five motion pictures.

Following the Cuban revolution, Cruz moved to New York City in the early-1960s, where North American and Latin musicians were experimenting with a mix of rhythms, styles, and traditions that ultimately became known as salsa. In 1962 she married La Sonora Matancera trumpeter Pedro Knight and began a series of musical collaborations with Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, and the Fania All Stars. Together these collaborations helped popularize the Latin sound in the United States and Europe.

 With her powerful voice, energetic dancing, and charismatic personality, Cruz electrified her audiences. A virtuoso in the art of improvisational singing, she chose a repertoire that showcased her command of complex rhythms and melodies. Dressed in fantastic gowns and elaborate wigs, she would cry “¡Azucar!” (“Sugar!” in Spanish) to evoke associations with Cuban culture and to energize her audiences.

Cruz’s partnership with orchestra leader, composer, and percussionist Tito Puente produced a number of albums from 1966 until 1973 and led to hundreds of joint performances. In 1973, Cruz played the role of Gracia Divina in the Latin opera Hommy at Carnegie Hall. More success followed when she teamed up with legendary bandleader Johnny Pacheco. Their 1974 album Celia y Johnny, which included one of the signature songs of salsa, “Químbara,” was one of 23 gold records she earned in her career.

During the mid-1970s, Cruz was the world’s best-known salsa singer. Over the next decade, as the “Queen of Salsa” continued to record and travel, her popularity was reflected in the enthusiasm of her audiences and the number of magazine polls in which she was voted “Best Female Latin Music Vocalist.”

While always singing in Spanish, she continually reinvented herself, collaborating in the 1990s with non-salsa musicians such as David Byrne, Patti LaBelle, and hip-hop singer Wyclef Jean. Cruz also demonstrated her versatility by performing short dramatic roles in the films The Mambo Kings (1992) with Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante and The Perez Family (1995) with Marisa Tomei, and by appearing in two Mexican soap operas.

Cruz died on July 16, 2003, following a battle with brain cancer. Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated her life at memorials in Miami and New York City.

Cruz received many honors during her career, including three Grammy Awards, four Latin Grammy Awards, the President’s National Medal of Arts (1994), and countless lifetime achievement awards. She received honorary doctorates from Yale University in 1989, Florida International University in 1992, and the University of Miami in 1999. Her legacy continues through the work of the Celia Cruz Foundation. Based in New York City, the non-profit organization was established in 2002 by Cruz to raise funds for cancer research and to provide scholarships for young Latino music students, and to keep the Celia Cruz legacy alive.

Celia Cruz – Awards and Honors

  • BILLBOARD AWARD Miami, Florida 2005
  • PREMIO LO NUESTRO AWARD “ Best Female Artist of the Year” 2005
  • GUINNESS WORLD RECORD BOOK “Longest Working Career as Salsa Artist” 2005
  • DEDICATION CELIA CRUZ SQUARE – Hollywood – CA 2005
  • LATIN GRAMMY AWARD “  Best Salsa Album – Regalo Del Alma “ 2004
  • OYE AWARD “ Best Tropical Album” 2004
  • STREET DEDICATION “Calle Celia Cruz – Tenerife Spain 2004
  • STREET DEDICATION “Celia Cruz Way – Union City, New Jersey” 2004
  • GRAMMY AWARD “ Best Salsa/Merengue Album – Regalo Del Alma” 2003
  • GRAMMY AWARD “ Best Salsa Album  – La Negra Tiene Tumbao “ 2003
  • PREMIO LA NUESTRO AWARD “ Album of The Year – La Negra Tiene Tumbao “ 2003
  • PREMIO LO NUESTRO AWARD “ Best Song of the Year – La Vida Es Un Carnaval” 2003
  • VOICES FOR CHILDREN FOUNDATION “ Humanitarian Award “ 2003
  • LATIN GRAMMY AWARD “ Best Salsa Album – La Negra Tiene Tumbao “ 2002
  • LATIN GRAMMY AWARD  “ Best Tropical Tradicional Album –Siempre Vivire “ 2001
  • LATIN GRAMMY AWARD    “ Best Salsa Performance – Celia Cruz and Friends “   2000
  • AWARD “ Gaviota de Plata “ Vina del Mar Festival “ Chile – 2000
  • AWARD “ Artist of the Millenium “ TELEMUNDO NETWORK  Miami, Florida – 1999
  • THE RECORDING ACADEMY HEROES AWARD “ Lifetime Achievement Award “ New York City – 1999
  • DOCTORATE HONORIS CAUSA IN MUSIC University of Miami  Coral Gables, Florida – 1999
  • GRAMMY AWARD NOMINATION “ Best Tropical Album – Mi Vida Es Cantar “ Los Angeles, CA – 1999
  • ASCAP AWARD “ Lifetime Achievement Award “ New York City –1999
  • MEDAL “ Cruz Sebastian de Belalcazar” Cali, Colombia – 1999

HISPANIC HERITAGE AWARDS “ Hispanic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award “ Washington, D. C. – 1998

  • ACAPULCO FESTIVAL MEDAL 1998 Acapulco, Mexico – 1998
  • ACE AWARD “Best Tropical Performance “ New York – 1998
  • GRAMMY NOMINATION “ Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group “ GUANTANAMERA with Wyclef Jean and Jeni Fujita New York – 1998
  • PROCLAMATION  city of  SAN FRANCISCO “ Celia Cruz Day In San Francisco October 25th San Francisco, California
  • SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION “ Lifetime Achievement Award “ Washington D.C – 1997
  • ACE AWARD  “ Best Tropical Music Concert “ New York – 1997
  • STAR DEDICATION - Costa Rica’s Walk of Fame San Jose, Costa Rica -1997
  • STAR DEDICATION - MEXICOS’S GALERIA WALK OF FAME Mexico City, Mexico – 1997
  • SPECIAL RECOGNITION from the State of New York for her concert “ The Lady and Her Music “New York – 1996
  • ANDALUCIA AWARD ” Universal Artist ” Coral Gables, Florida – 1996
  • ACE AWARD ” Extraordinary Artist of the Year ” New York City – 1996
  • STAR DEDICATION - VENEZUELA ” Walk of Fame ” Amador Bendayan “   Caracas, Venezuela – 1995
  • CASANDRA AWARD Dominican Republic – 1995
  • DESI AWARDS ” Lifetime Achievement Award ” Hollywood, California – 1995
  • ACE AWARD ” Best Musical Video ” New York City – 1995
  • ANGEL  AWARD ” Ole La Vida ” Hollywood, California – 1995
  • ACCA AWARD ” Pan Art ”  Miami, Florida – 1983 – 1995
  • Recipient of the President’s Award for the National Endowment For The Arts White House, Washington D.C – 1994
  • PREMIO LO NUESTRO AWARD  ( nominations ) Miami, Florida ( 1992 – 1993 – 1994 – 1995 )
  • BILLBOARD MUSIC AWARD - ” Hall Of Fame Award ” Miami, Florida – 1994
  • UNIVERSITY OF PANAMA ” Life Time Achievement Award ” Panama – 1994
  • LA MUSA DE ORO AWARD “ Life Time Achievement Award “ Caracas, Venezuela – 1994
  • MOVIELAND STAR HALL OF FAME Buena Park, California – 1993
  • APLAUSO 92 AWARD  ” Best Latin Female Vocalist ” Miami, Florida -  1989 – 1991  – 1992
  • ENCUENTRO AWARD ” Lifetime Achievement Award ” Washington D.C – 1992
  • HONORARY DOCTORATE HONORIS CAUSA Florida International University – 1992
  • DESI AWARDS ” Favorite Film Actress ” Hollywood, California – 1992
  • SCULPTURE IN HOLLYWOOD WAX MUSEUM Hollywood, California – 1992
  • HISPANIC WOMAN ACHIEVERS AWARD  New York City – 1992
  • STAR DEDICATION  “ Calle Ocho Walk Of Fame Star “ Miami, Florida – 1991
  • GOLDEN EAGLE AWARD ” Lifetime Achievement Award in Music ” Hollywood,California – 1991
  • MADISON SQUARE GARDEN “ Garden Greats Wall “ New York City – 1991
  • PREMIO LO NUESTRO AWARD  Billboard  Miami, Florida – 1990 -1991
  • MIAMI’S CALLE OCHO NAMED “ CELIA CRUZ WAY “ Miami, Florida – 1990
  • GRAMMY AWARD - ” Best Tropical Latin Album ” Los Angeles, California – 1989
  • HONORARY DOCTORAL DEGREE OF MUSIC-  YALE UNIVERSITY   – 1989
  • OTTO AWARD ” Lifetime Achievement Award ” Miami, Florida – 1989
  • STAR DEDICATION  “ HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME ” Hollywood, California – 1987
  • ACE AWARDS ” Life Time Achievement Award ” New York City – 1987
  • LIBERTY MEDAL AWARD  New York City – 1986
  • GRAMMY  AWARD  NOMINATIONS 1979 – 1983- 1985 – 1986 – 1987 – 1988 – 1992 – 1993
  • DAILY NEWS ” Front Page Award ” – ( Best Latin Female Artist ) New York City  1975 Trough 1982 and1985
  • GUINNESS WORLD RECORD BOOK ” Carnaval Tenerife ” Islas Canarias, Spain – 1987
  • BRAVO AWARD ” Best Tropical Female Vocalist ” Los Angeles, CA – 1986
  • MONARCH MERIT AWARD New York, New York – 1986
  • TU MUSICA AWARD ” Best Female Vocalist ” 1984

TRIBUTE AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN ( Sold-out Concert ) New York City – 1982

  • ACE AWARD ” Best Female Vocalist ” New York City -  1978 – 1980
  • LATIN NEW YORK MUSIC AWARD New York – 1975 – 1976 – 1978
  • BILLBOARD AWARD ” Best Tropical Album ” New York – 1977
  • RITA MONTANER MEDAL Miami, Florida
  • EL HERALDO AWARD ” Best Tropical Vocalist ” Mexico City – 1967 – 1968 – 1970