Celia Cruz (born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, 21 October 1929 - 16 July 2003) was a Havana, Cuba born salsa singer, and was one of the most successful Salsa performers of the 20th century, with twenty-three gold albums to her name. She was renowned internationally as the "Queen of Salsa" as well as "La Guarachera de Cuba". She spent most of her career living in New Jersey, and working in the United States and several Latin American countries.
Born one of 14 Children in the small village of Barrio Santra Suarez, Havana, Cruz was drawn to music at an early age. She would sing for tourist and also sing for her younger brothers and sisters. Cruz sang at many school productions and many neighborhood gatherings. Taken to cabarets and nightclubs by an aunt, she was introduced to the world of music. With the encouragement of a cousin, Cruz began to enter and win many local talent shows. Although her father wanted her to become a teacher, the music kept calling to her.
Her first break came in 1950 when she joined the band La Sonora Matancera. Cruz remained with the group for 15 years, touring throughout the world. She married the band's trumpet player Pedro Knight on July 14, 1962. With Fidel Castro taking control of Cuba in 1960, Cruz and Knight refused to return to Cuba and became citizens of the United States and settled in New York. Knight became Cruz's Manager in 1965, a position he held till the mid 1990s when he began to devote his attention to serving as her musical director and conductor of her band.
Leaving La Sonora Matancera band in 1965, Cruz went on to pursue her solo career with a band formed for her by Tito Puente. Although she released eight albums, the collaboration failed to achieve commercial success. Cruz and Puente resumed their partnership with a special appearance at the Grammy award ceremonies in 1987. Signed by Vaya the sister label of Fania, Cruz recorded with Oscar D'Leon, Cheo Feliciano and Hector Rodriguez in the mid 1960s. Cruz's first success after leaving La Sonora Matancera was in 1974 when she recorded a duo record with Johnny Pacheco which was called simply "Celia and Johnny." In 1992 she made her movie debut in "Mambo Kings." She also appeared in The Perez Family and she sang a duet version of "Loco De Amor" in the movie "Something Wild" in 1998.
Celia Cruz reinvented herself at every opportunity, always gaining new and younger fans. She understood the power of music beyond the traditional Cuban rhythms she started performing in the 1940's. By the end of the 1990's she was doing hip-hop, and one of her greatest hits "La negra tiene tumbao" became an anthem to new generations. She also recorded a rendition of Gloria Gaynors "I will survive".
Celia was honoured many times during her long career. She earned five Grammy Awards, many Gold Records and countless other honours and Lifetime Achievement Awards. She received three honorary doctorates, from Yale, Florida & Miami Universities. She was a White House guest of five presidents.
In early 2003, she had surgery to correct knee problems that she had for a few years, and she intended to continue working indefinitely. Celia died on July 16, 2003, in New Jersey, at the age of 74, after battling brain cancer for several months. She was survived by her husband Pedro Knight, who died February 3, 2007. After her death in New Jersey, her body was taken to Miami for cremation. More than 200,000 of her South Florida fans paid their final respects. Her body was returned to New Jersey where tens of thousands of fans paid tribute to her at the funeral home. A memorial service was held for her in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York.
Celia Cobo of Billboard Magazine once said "Cruz is indisputably the best known and most influential female figure in the history of Cuban music." (Info edited from many sources)