Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


CRUZ, Celia

(b 21 Oct., Havana; d 16 July 2003, believed to be 78) Afro-Cuban singer of operatic range: the 'Queen of Salsa', she made over 50 albums. Raised in Santos Suárez district in an extended family of 14 children. Studied literature at teachers' training college; pushed into radio talent show by a cousin, which she won (in '35 or '47; sources conflict); sang on radio, switched to music full-time: studied ('solfage, theory -- and piano. But I didn't like to cut my nails') at Havana Conservatory of Music. She performed on Santero, an album of Afro-Cuban religious music, continued to specialize in songs from that genre; to Mexico and Venezuela with revue Las Mulatas de Fuego '49; joined popular band Sonora Matancera '50 for 15 years for many albums on Seeco; she toured Latin America and the USA, appeared in films.

She left Cuba for the last time '60 with Sonora Matancera and settled in the USA; she married the band's lead trumpeter Pedro Knight, who became her manager and on-stage music director when she left the band in the mid-'60s. She switched to Tico for 14 LPs including seven with Tito Puente and four recorded in Mexico with the band of Memo Salamanca; she sang the role of Gracia Divina in Larry Harlow's salsa opera Hommy at Carnegie Hall '73, gaining new generation of Latino fans. Began recording with bandleader Johnny Pacheco on Vaya '74; first LP Celia And Johnny went gold. Toured the world with Fania All Stars and Puente; LPs incl. Live At Yankee Stadium with FAS (two vols) and Tremendo Caché with Pacheco '75, Recordando El Ayer '76 ('Remembering The Past') with Pacheco, Justo Betancourt, Papo Lucca; collaboration with Willie Colón Only They Could Have Made This Album '77, 'Brillante' Best (hits compilation) and Grammy-nom. Eternos (with Pacheco) '78; appeared with singers Cheo Feliciano, Santos Colon, Ismael Quintana, Adalberto Santiago, others on Puente tributes to the great Cuban singer/bandleader Beny Moré Homenaje a Beny '77-9; won Latin NY female vocalist poll each year '75-82.

She reunited with Sonora Matancera on LP Feliz Encuentro '82 on Barbaro; other albums included four Grammy nominees: Tremendo Trio! '83 with Ray Barretto and Adalberto Santiago, Homenaje a Beny Moré Vol. III with Puente and De Nuevo '85 with Pacheco, The Winners '87 on Vaya prod. by Colón. Participated in 65th anniversary three-concert reunion of Sonora Matancera with 13 of its erstwhile lead vocalists (one concert released as the two-disc Live! From Carnegie Hall: 65th Anniversary Celebration '89); won a Grammy '90 for her second collaboration with Ray Barretto Ritmo En El Corazón '88. Grammy-nominated Tributo a Ismael Rivera '92 was her last on Vaya. After guesting on Puente's The Mambo King: 100th LP '91 on RMM, she made her own debut on the label with the stylistically mixed Azucar Negra '93; she teamed up with Oscar D'León on the hit 'El Son de Celia y Oscar' from the '93 all-star RMM gathering Combinación Perfecta; her much stronger RMM Grammy-nominated follow-up Irrepetible/Unrepeatable '94 was produced in Miami by Willie Chirino (b 5 April early '50s, Pinar del Río, Cuba; producer/ singer/ composer since '73, creator of the so-called 'Sound of Miami'). Cruz also participated in all-star RMM sets Familia RMM en vivo, RMM's European Salsa Explosion and RMM Tropical Tribute To The Beatles '94-6. She continued to tour the world, her international fame beginning to catch up with her stature in Latin community, i.e. she gained a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame '90 and appeared in the Hollywood movie The Mambo Kings '91.