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The Life of Celia Cruz

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The Celia Cruz biography is a writing detailing the story of her life deeply influenced by rooted Hispanic music culture, enthusiasm and thrilling stage performances across her life time. Much focus is based on influence of original afro-Latino pop culture in life of the undisputed queen of salsa and how migration predisposed Cruz adult life giving it a new perspective. Commonly known as ‘La Reina de la Salsa’ or some times ‘La Guarachera de Cuba’, she is highly considered musical legends of her life time who largely played a key role in popularizing and revitalizing the concept and performance of Latin music.

Though relating life and time of the salsa queen, the biography is considered a detailed, explicit, and rich history of salsa music and culture of the Afrocuban population, which underwent a series of metamorphosis into present order (Cammarota, 2011a). Who could ever make sugar to be sweeter than the salsa queen could! .In addition, she is famously known for Making the word ‘azacar’ an emotional chant in her performance platform. Besides, she boost of being the very first female salsa superstar, and to date, still is the most influential woman in the genre of salsa music and Afro fusion.

Further more, she  cut a niche as a very sharp, vocalist singing only in the original Spanish native language. In honor of her outstanding achievements, a Street within Miami city is inscribed with her name and several statues in Hollywood of her image are found in the wax museum. In addition, the salsa queen’s orange, red, and white polka trademark dress forms component of the permanent assortments in Smithsonian Institute of Technology. Besides, Cruz was respected for her down to earth decorum vibrant in a spacious smile and unique but striking façade. By any standard, she can be classified as international star in the entertainment circle with a massive following and several prestigious musical awards including Grammies (Murillo, 2010).

Birth and Family

Born on October21, 1924, in Havana, Cuba, Ursula Hillarie Celia Cruz Alfonso was a beautiful daughter of Simon Cruz and CatalinaAlfonso. Besides her, there were 14 other siblings in this family residing within the poor neighborhood of Santos Suarez, with very rich diverse native Cuban musical culture deeply engraved into the hearts and minds of her people. At the tender age of a teenager, the hidden musical talent of jovial Cruz was spotted, and in a move to nurture it, her Aunt introduced her to cabaret who were singers and dancers in recreational contests across the village of Santo Suarez and its environ. Despite superstar syndrome, her strict father closely monitored educational progress more than to musical talent. He encouraged her to solder on with school life and in future become a renowned teacher. While still in school, one of her favorite teachers encouraged her to pursue musical career stating that as an established singer, Cruz will eventual earn in a day what she makes after a month (Cammarota, 2011b). Cruz was not deterred by her father’s views but instead continued singing in many concerts as a teenager bagging numerous small prizes and winning most of the musical contests she participated in. In relating her life experience, Celia often fondly narrate a story on the subject of her first pair of shoes being a gift form an impressed tourist she sang to.

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Beginning of Music Career

In 1947, while still training in collage to be a literature teacher, her older cousin bought her a ticket for talent show competition in called La Hera Del radio show where she won first prize. Professional radio presentation work shortly followed the conclusion of this competition in the same radio station alongside part time teaching at Havana National Conservatory of Music for some time. After consulting with one of the trusted fellow staff member, Cruz opted for this teacher’s opinion of going full time in music career, thus abandoning teaching career with the support from her close confidant mother though the father was not amused at all.

Cruz first appearance in the musical industry as a professional was in the Santero album fusing deep Afro-Cuban cult like inspired music recorded by Panart label believed to have been influenced by her associations with Yoruba cult as highlighted across the United Kingdom media circus against her vivid protest. In defense, Cruz assured the community that she was a Roman Catholic faithful to the later. Besides the radio career, she was part of the band Gloria Mate sera in small theatre productions and cabarets across Cuban territory which by then was under colonial control. The biggest break through for Cruz was founded in the friendship she made with Roderico Roney Neyra, who them was a choreographer at the well-known Havana Tropicana nightclub. Roney assisted her secure a performance contract with the club management as a singer in the season of winter (Cammarota, 2011b).

In addition to seasonal performances, Cruz was accompanied by him to musical tours in Venezuela and Mexico alongside his La Mulatas De Furgo dance troupe commonly known by the locals simply as ‘the fiery mulattas’. During these tours, Cruz made contacts with Rogelio, the then director of popular Sonara Matancera band. The following year, on August 3rd, 1950, she was assimilated in this band as a lead vocalist subsequent of Silvia exit to return home to Puerto Rico. Her strong vocals revitalized the band’s weekly performances at radio Progreso studios.

Following release of the hit single ‘Cao Cao Mani Picao’ in January of 1951, Cruz made a debut with the band as the song swept across the entertainment industry. Moreover, this song later made it in her biggest instant hit album Canciones Premiadas De RPM. In addition, its remix was contained in the second album released by Cruz called Homenaje A Los Santos volume 2.The group’s success grew each day due to their vitality performances and strong vocals from their lead vocalist. Consequently, the group contract with Cruz was to last for almost fifteen years with several awards and list of records produced and sold.

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During this period, the crew appeared severally on television shows and interviews, their songs topped billboard of Tropicana, in addition, made several successful campaign and music performance tours of the Caribbean peninsula, parts of central and southern America and states of the United States of America. Consequently, Cruz’s first appearance in the city of New York was in 1957 at Old St. Nicholas Arena.

Migration to America

In July 1960, Cruz alongside Sonara Matancera band permanently migrated from the Post revolutionary territory of Cuba for Mexico under unclear circumstances as in an extract of her biography recorded in 1983 quoting her stating, “We gave them an impression we just going on another temporary tour abroad. That’s how we got out”. Safely in Mexico, the group worked for almost two years with the third quarter in fifth appearance on a Mexican movie on culture and its influence on afro fusion of music. Constant lengthy dedication in Hollywood palladium enabled the entire Sonora Matancera members to make an application for residency in US, which they succeeded to acquire (Suarez-Orozco, 2008).

A romantic relationship ensured between the lead vocalist, Cruz and Pedro Knight, the band’s lead trumpeter in 1961, confirmed in a colorful marriage, which was to last for forty-six years. Her husband Pedro assumed the full role of managing her musical career alongside directing stage performances. In 1965, after separating from Sonora Matancera band, Celia opted for a new recording studio; Tico records a constituent branch of Morris Levy Roulette Records, and cemented the relationship with Tico in her twelve following albums between the period of 1966 to 1972, alongside seven others produced in Tito Puente partnership.

In addition, she added to these collections four albums featuring the Mexican Memo Salamanca band. A combined factor of pitiable promotion and an audience keen on other style of music temporarily slowed down sales of these albums. However, this trend was reversed following the musical metamorphosis in the early 1970’s accompanied by explicit acceptance of this genre by the target audience, that is, young Latinos group residing in the cities of New Jersey, California, New York, Texas, and Miami seeking to identify Cruz’s music with their Latino roots. Salsa music transformed from just ordinary music into a musical symbol for cultural identity and root discovery for its audience (Cisneros, 2009).

Origin of Popularity

With the breakthrough because of entrenched symbolic fusion, Jerry Masucci, successful promoter of salsa genre was so much impressed by Celia’s talent. He arranged for a bid with Levy, the proprietor of Tico records and subsequently changed ownership of Tico to be part of his Fania fold records thus reaching to Cruz. During a 1973 tour of Mexican city, Celia was given a life changing opportunity to test her vocals in the Latin opera Hommy on Fania album done by famous Larry Harlow. Her unique outstanding act during this brief stint with the Hommy opera on the 29th day of 1973 served as a refined re-launch of the long musical career and instantly connected her to a generation of younger audience who developed a cult like following for her Latino fusion musical genre. Cruz’s fan base and popularity was firmly secured the subsequent summer year of 1974 following the hyped release of the initial of many sequential six doing well professional alliances with Pacheco going golden in a period of less than a year.

In addition, she churned a well-choreographed album featuring ‘Fania All Stars band’ well received by the audience who showed up in large numbers during its performance at Yankee Stadium in 1975. The re arranged singles in her earlier albums by Bobby Valentino was a show bunger characterized with a jovial mass of audience chanting Cruz’s famous one word chorus line “colora” ands demanding that she returns to the stage for more juicy performance. Following this well received stage act, a recorded footage capturing this scene ended up as part of salsa movie done by Masucci. The ‘bemba colora’ henceforth became her trademark chant for closing all her live concert performance act. This new found partnership participated in many international tours of different countries in Europe and Africa ending in 1988 following the expired contract with band Fania All Stars (Valdés, 2009)..

Afro-Cuban Fusion

After almost two decades of separation, Cruz reunited with Sonora Matancera band in 1982 and recorded with them at Feliz Encuentro album. In addition, she was involved in the BBC television profile arena film ‘my name is RPM’ to be broadcasted later in 1988, almost a year following her award as a lifetime star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In addition, later that same year, a program called Rhythm of the World Series aired by BBC channel was showing devotedly  footages of concerts  performed by Cruz a long side Puente’s Big Band featuring Pacheco as a special guest capture at Apollo Theatre in the city of New York. In the month of July1989, along with a dozen of former lead vocalists of Matencera Sonora band, Celia staged three series of live concert performances to mark the band’s 65th anniversary summed up by a mega release of a double album (Murillo, 2010).

In recognition of her outstanding contributions and achievement in the entertainment circle, Cruz received a prestigious honorary doctorate degree of music by the community of Yale University, University of Miami, and Florida International University in the year 1989. Besides, Ritmo En El Coraz song done in alliance with Ray Barreto in 1988, garnered a Grammy Award at the onset of 1990. Two years later Cruz was part of the cast of a movie Mambo Kings performing her role as an owner of a famous nightclub called Evalina. In 1995, as part of her achievement profile, she performed a cameo part in ‘The Perez Family’ family show.

The Business Mogul

Upon signing up with RMM recording label way back in the year 1989, she patented and licensed her music targeting the Spanish market the following year on the new brand BAT records with the song Azucar Negra giving her the first gold testimony on Spanish music charts. Following this successful overturn of events, most of the 90’s were constructively utilized by Cruz to establish strong presence in the music market commerce. However, in her late 60s, this decade enabled this energetic jovial salsa queen to fully reap a good number of the most satisfactory rewards of a musical life so brilliant. Among the awards she collected include the Hispanic Heritage Organization and Smithsonian medals.

During this period, Latin music was completely assimilated into the American mainstream industry enabling her to grab many different important awards like those that the much talked about 1995 Billboard Lifetime Achievement Award. At start of the new millennium, the Queen of salsa signed a deal with Sony Label. This was meant to underline her comeback to the commercial music industry with the song Siempre Vivir. In Miami district of Calla Ocho, a street has been named after this legendry of Latino origin. Besides, in San Francisco, 25th October, 1994 was declared her day marked by her visitation to the White House to receive the National Medal of Arts Award from President Clinton.

Celia Cruz life was full of vitality and music since very tender age. Her achievements as a live performance artist were much more than what she dreamt of as a little daughter of Simon Cruz and Catalina Alfonso back in the poor neighborhood of Santos Suarez in Cuba. Regardless of accolades accompanied by fame, she stays a friendly, warm and very down to earth American citizen until her demise because of brain tumor. Watching her energetic performances suggests that for sure, Cruz was a person of her own natural element in the genre of salsa thus the common reference as ‘queen of salsa’ music associated worth Latino culture. To this present time, Celia remains to be the most influential and important woman in salsa and Afro-Cuban music (Valdés, 2009).

In conclusion, unfortunately, she died before realizing her dream of making it back to Cuba; her motherland. When she left Cuba and switched citizenship to America, the revolutionary leader of Cuban territory then and still viewed her as a traitor. Fidel Castro never even allowed her to return home for her mother’s burial. Thus her song”Yo llevo a Cuba la voz-I send to Cuba my voice” remained to be just a dream. Celia’s rich distinctive voice, vibrating through the rhythm of the Caribbean Island where she was born, was an active agent dispersing her Cuban influenced art across the globe. Her untimely demise has left a very deep hollow in the music of Latino origin, but as well a rich catalogue to keep her reign alive.

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