Celia Cruz Biography

EARLY YEARS

Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso – Celia Cruz – was born in 1925 in Barrio Santos Suarez in Havana, one of 4 children. In a career that spanned six decades, Celia became the “Queen of Salsa,” and was central to the genre’s rising popularity.

First Communion

Celia was drawn to music from an early age. Legend has it that her first pair of shoes was actually a gift from a tourist for whom she sang. In addition to singing her siblings to sleep, Celia sang in school productions and community gatherings.
Her career began in earnest as a teenager, when her aunt and cousin took her to cabarets to perform. Although her father wanted her to become a teacher, she followed her heart and chose music instead, studying voice, theory and piano at Havana’s National Conservatory of Music. In the late 1940’s, she competed on an amateur radio show contest called “The Tea Hour.” As a result of her growing radio fame, she came to the attention of influential producers and musicians.
She was hired as the singer for Las Mulatas Del Fuego, a dance group that traveled throughout Latin America. In 1950, she became the lead female singer for La Sonora Matancera, Cuba’s most popular orchestra. Over the next years with the orchestra, her star continued to rise.

Las Mulatas del Fuego

CELIA IN NEW YORK

As the Cuban Revolution raged in 1960, Celia (touring in concert in Mexico at the time), made the decision not to return to the island. In 1961, she moved to the U.S., and married Pedro Knight, her longtime friend and trumpet player. Fidel Castro was so enraged by Cruz’s defection, he barred her from returning to Cuba. In fact, Celia never returned to her homeland.

Pedro Knight and Celia Cruz

Celia joined the Tito Puente Orchestra in the mid–1960’s. Her flamboyant attire and magnetic personality meteorically expanded the group’s fan base. The group was central to the new sound developing in the 1960s and ‘70s – music born of Cuban and Afro-Latin mixed musical tradition – which came to be known as “Salsa.” A new record label, “Fania,” was launched, devoted solely to the genre. In 1974, Celia joined the label and recorded “Celia y Johnny” with Johnny Pacheco. One of the album’s tracks, “Quimbera” became a signature song for her. Celia was the only woman in the Fania All Stars, and one of the few women to succeed in the male-dominated salsa world. She would go on to perform with the Willie Colon Orchestra and the Sonora Poncena, with Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez.

Celia Cruz - Fania All Stars - 1980
Celia Cruz – Fania All-Stars – 1980

CELIA’S FAME CIRCLES THE GLOBE

During Celia’s star-studded 60 years as a performer, she collaborated and performed with many musical legends around the world.

Celia was a true pioneer of AfroLatinidad, focusing on the African elements of her identity (music, lyrics and dress) at a time when it was not popular to do so. In 1974, Celia was one of a group of artists including B.B. King, James Brown, The Spinners, Bill Withers and Miriam Makeba that performed in Kinshasa, Zaire alongside top local groups. The concert was part of a three day festival, “Zaire ’74,” the brainchild of South African trumpeter High Masekela. The performance was supposed to precede the famous boxing match “Rumble in the Jungle” between George Foreman and Muhammed Ali. Just before the concert was scheduled to begin, Foreman injured his eye. The bout was pushed back six weeks, but the Show went on – and was brilliantly documented in the powerful film, “Soul Power.”

Celia Cruz - Fania All Stars - 1980
Celia Cruz

Over the course of an amazing career, Celia recorded more than 80 albums and songs, earned 23 Gold Records, and won five Grammy Awards. She performed with a wide range of celebrities, including Gloria Estefan, Dionne Warwick, Ismael Rivera and Wyclef Jean. In 1976, she participated in the documentary film “Salsa” with costars Dolores del Rio and Willie Colon (with whom she made three albums in 1977, 1981 and 1987). She also appeared in several Hollywood movies, including the popular 1992 film “The Mambo Kings.” She earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton. Celia received honorary doctorates from Yale University and the University of Miami. A street in Miami was renamed in her honor. In 1994, Celia was inducted into Billboards Latin Music Hall of Fame with fellow Cuban musician Cachao Lopez. In 1999, she was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. On July 16, 2002, Celia performed to a full house at New York’s Central Park Summer Stage. She died in New Jersey one year later in 2003, at the age of 77. Her songs, performances and spirit remain international treasures.

CELIA’S ENDURING LEGACY

Celia’s trademark orange, red and white polka dot dress and shoes have been placed in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. The exhibit pays tribute to Celia’s iconic style – her flamboyant costumes, brightly colored wigs, tight sequined dresses and perilously high heels.

Humor was also one of Celia’s trademarks. In a 1988 BBC Arena performance, she told the audience: “If your husband hits you, make sure you hit him back. If you can’t do it with your hand, hit him with the frying pan.”

In March 2003, Telemundo produced and aired a special tribute to Celia, entitled, “Celia Cruz: Azucar!” Hosted by Marc Anthony and Gloria Estefan, it featured performances by Jose Feliciano, Patti Labelle, Gilberto Santa Rose, Arturo Sandoval, Luis Enrique and Gloria Gaynor, to list a few.

In May 2005, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History opened the exhibit “Azucar!” celebrating key moments in Celia’s life and music. In March 2011, Celia was honored by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative postage stamp. Celia was one of a group of five stamps honoring Latin Music greats. Selena, Tito Puente, Carmen Miranda and Carlos Gardel joined Celia inthis tribute.

Celia Cruz - Fania All Stars - 1980
Latin Music Legends – Stamps 2011

Though she has been gone for 14 years, Celia is beloved in every corner of the globe. Poignantly, in a 1997 interview, she commented, “I have fulfilled my father’s wish to be a teacher as, through my music, I teach generations of people about my culture and the happiness that is found in just living life. As a performer, I want people to feel their hearts sing and their spirits soar.”

Celia Cruz - Fania All Stars - 1980

CELIA CRUZ – AWARDS AND HONORS

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

HISPANIC HERITAGE AWARDS “ HISPANIC HERITAGE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD “ WASHINGTON, D. C. – 1998

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

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Celia Cruz All Stars - Logo
Celia Cruz All Stars - Logo
Celia Cruz All Stars - Logo