Celebrating Afro-Latina Celia Cruz for Black History Month

Celebrating Afro-Latina Celia Cruz for Black History Month

Known as “La Guarachera de Cuba”, “La Reina de la Salsa”, “The Queen of Latin Music”, and “La Guarachera del Mundo”, Celia Cruz is an icon as who pioneered Afrolatinx pride.

We hosted a nostalgic and informative room on Clubhouse to celebrate the Latina icon.

Check out the replay here.

Moderators: Jackie Paz, Dali Rivera and Danay Escanaverino.

Here are a few interesting facts about La Reina that we shared in our Celebration of her for Black History Month.

The Beginning of Her Career

  • Born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso in Cuba, Celia was a world renowned singer.
  • She died from brain cancer at her home in her adopted home town of Fort Lee, New Jersey where she was buried. She was 77, but no one knew her real age because she never shared it.
  • Her musical breakthrough came in 1950 when she replaced lead singer Myrta Silva of the popular orchestra La Sonora Matancera. She was the ensemble’s first Black front person since its founding about 25 years earlier.
  • The Cuban and Afro-Cuban band played music in the genres of son, guaracha, bolero, cha-cha-cha, and guaguancó. Although she had to prove herself after replacing Silva, Cruz won over the public and took La Sonora to a whole new level of worldwide success.
  • Cruz sang regularly with the ensemble on radio and television, toured extensively, and appeared with it in five films produced in Mexico. She also recorded with La Sonora Matancera, and beginning with Canta Celia Cruz (1956; “Celia Cruz Sings”), her songs with the group were compiled as full-length albums.
  • Cruz also headlined Havana’s famous Tropicana nightclub in the 1950s. 
  • Celia Cruz left La Sonora in 1965.
  • As the Cuban Revolution raged in 1960, Celia and her band members who were on tour in Mexico at the time, decided to defect.
  • 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.
  • During her epic career, Celia Cruz recorded over 70 albums. Among these were 23 albums that were certified gold, and others that earned platinum status, plus many more live albums and collaborations.

Awards & Accolades

  • Three streets have been named after Celia Cruz.
    • One is the iconic Calle Ocho, in Miami, which was renamed Celia Cruz Way, September 29, 1989.
    • Celia Cruz Square, in Los Angeles.
    • In the Brox, NY, the corner of Reservoir Ave. and West 195th St. in the Kingsbridge section is now known as Celia Cruz Way.
  • In 1994 President Bill Clinton presented Celia with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor an artist can receive by the United States government.
  • She was honored with three different doctorates:
    • An honorary doctorate of music from Yale (in 1989)
    • A doctorate honoris causa from Florida International University (in 1992)
    • A doctorate honoris causa in music from the University of Miami (in 1999).
  • Hall of Fame
    • Billboard Latin Music Hall of Fame
    • International Latin Music Hall of Fame.
  • She was honored with her own stamp in the U.S. On May 16, 2011, the United States Postal Service released their Latin Music Legends stamp collection, which featured Selena, Tito Puente, Carlos Gardel, Carmen Miranda, and of course, Celia Cruz.

More Resources

Here are some more resources where you can learn about the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz.

  • BBC documentary, My Name Is Celia Cruz (1988)
  • Celia, a 70 episode novela based on her life streaming on Peacock.
  • Her autobiography, Celia: My Life (2004; originally published in Spanish), written with Ana Cristina Reymundo.

Let us know which Afro-Latino/a/x you would love to learn more about for our Black History Month series.

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