Ursula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso is better known by her stage name, Celia Cruz. She was famed for her electrifying stage performances. During her career, she was the recipient of an amazing twenty-three gold albums. Often called, The Queen of Salsa, she was referred to by Leila Cobo of Billboard Magazine as “indisputably the best known and most influential female figure in the history of Cuban and Latin music”.
She was one of four children born to working class parents in a poor Havana neighborhood. She often sang her family to sleep at night. Her father longed for his daughter to become a teacher and Cruz did enroll in the National Teachers’ College. She left the school soon after enrolling to pursue a music career that went on to last many decades. She hit it big in 1950 when she was tapped to sing backup for famed Cuban artist, Myrta Silva, and her band. She soon began to eclipse the band in fame and her debut album was a great success.
She went on to record additional albums with her signature voice and sound being called operatic. She had the admirable ability to move between high and low pitches that other singers envied. She was also famous for her distinctive stage fashion. Her colorful costumes were made up of brightly colored wigs and headpieces, skin-tight sequined dresses, and spiky high heels. Her wardrobe gained such popularity and iconic status that it was eventually acquired by the Smithsonian Institution.
With her first album debuting in 1948, her musical influence spanned more than fifty years. Her albums and recordings include:
- Homenaje a Beny Moré
- En Vivo Radio Progreso, Vol. 1
- Tremendo Trío
- Canciones que Yo Quería Haber Grabado Prim
- Incomparable Celia
Banned from her native Cuba, Celia was not even granted permission to return for the illness and subsequent death of her mother. She migrated to the US where she was largely unknown outside the Cuban exile community. She slowly began to gain acclaim and reknown performing with the Tito Puente Orchestra. Her career took off in the US following her Cuban exile. In addition to her music career, Cruz also had a career in film, appearing in Salón México at the beginning of her career and films like ¡Olé… Cuba!, Fires Within, The Mambo King, and The Perez Family.
Celia Cruz succumbed to brain cancer in 2003. Her life was well lived and is marked by the words, actions, and legacies that live on after her demise. Her fame was so great that multiple vigils were held to honor her life. Her legend lives on. In 2003, The Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music was opened in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City. The Cuban community of Union City in New Jersey dedicated a park in her honor. In 2011, the US postal service issued the Celia Cruz commemorative postage stamp. The life of this legendary singer inspires women everywhere to chase their dreams and follow the music of their own lives.