Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: Celia Cruz

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: Celia Cruz

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In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we will be showcasing prominent Hispanic artists in history.


The Queen of Salsa Music.

Celia Cruz was considered the “Queen of Salsa Music.” During her career she was the recipient of numerous honors and awards including eight (8) Grammy Awards in such categories as ‘Best Salsa Album’, ‘Best Salsa Performance’, ‘Best Tropical Traditional Album’ and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Cruz, was one of Latin music’s most respected singers and sang only in Spanish. She was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton(1994), inducted into the Billboards Latin Music Hall of Fame (1994) and the International Latin Music Hall of Fame (1999).

Born in 1925 to a poor family in a barrio outside of Havana, Cuba she was one of 14 children. Celia Cruz was drawn to music at an early age and with the encouragement from her family, she entered and won a number of local talent shows. At the age of 22 she entered Cuba’s Conservatory of Music where she was inspired to sing in the Afro-Cuban tradition. Her first big professional break came three years later, when she was invited to join the much revered Latin band La Sonora Matancera. She sang with the band for 15 years and toured throughout the Latin America. She married the band’s trumpet player, Pedro Knight in 1962. They were touring with the band in Mexico, when Fidel Castro came to power and they refused to return to Cuba and became citizens of the United States.

Celia Cruz was relatively unknown outside the Cuban exile community when she launched her solo career in the U.S. but she soon joined with Tito Puente and gained exposure to a wider audience. On stage Cruz’s flamboyant costumes, soulful voice and engaging personality soon won her international acclaim. In time, she made more than 75 albums, 23 that went gold, she appeared in several movies, including ‘The Mambo Kings’ with Armand Assante and Antonio Bandares. In addition to Tito Puente she recorded with many other important Latin artists such as Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colon, and Mikey Perfecto

Celia Cruz died at the age of 78 as a result of a brain tumor. She taught us that “life is a carnival” (La Vida Es Un Carnaval). She said, “As a performer, I want people to feel their hearts sing and their spirits soar.” Along with her signature catchphrase, “¡Azúcar!“, Cecilia Cruz is remembered as one of the 20th century’s most beloved and popular Latin musicians.

Stanley Turetsky
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Stan Turetsky is a retired career educator and was a leader in educational reform in NYC’s schools for more than 45 years. He graduated with a B.S. from New York University, an M.A. from Columbia Teachers College and a professional diploma in Education Administration from Hofstra University.