The Passing of a Legend

Celia Cruz touched the hearts of many

By Los Amigos de LatinoLA
Published on LatinoLA: July 18, 2003

The Passing of a Legend

"Music is the only gift I have that was given to me by God. Unless He takes it away, I will continue to share my gift with everyone. It is what gives me pleasure. It is what brings me happiness. And that is my purpose in life. In a sense, I have fulfilled my father's wish to be a teacher as, through my music I teach generations of people about my culture and the happiness that can be found in just living life. As a performer, I want people to feel their hearts sing and their spirits soar."

- Celia Cruz

If there is one artist in Latin music that defines living legend it has to be the one and only Reina de la Salsa Celia Cruz. Year after year, Celia continues to record albums, perform internationally and add more and more awards to her huge collection of accolades.

Her first talent award was received in 1947, in her native Havana. Shortly after, she enrolled in the National Music Conservatory, where she studied musical theory, voice, and piano. Soon her music was in demand from the worlds of radio, movies, and television.

In the early 50's she replaced Myrta Silva in the legendary group La Sonora Matancera, and together they wrote some of the most memorable chapters in Afrocuban music. This alliance grew beyond the borders of her native island, and her talent was soon exported throughout the world.

On July 15th, 1960, she left her homeland for the United States, fooling the regime into thinking she was simply going on another tour with La Sonora Matancera. Castro never forgave her for this and refused to let her visit Cuba even when her mother was sick and her father died.

Once in America she recorded several albums with maestro Tito Puente and together they sparked an interest in salsa among Anglo and European audiences. This phenomenon was known as "the Salsa of the 70's". Her collaborations with other maestros, such as Johnny Pacheco, Willy Col?n, and la Fania All Stars, are also memorable.

Although she's received many distinctions, the 90's have marked a very special period in her career. In this decade, the Smithsonian Institution gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award, the Republic of Colombia awarded her the Presidential Medal in Arts, she received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Hispanic Heritage Awards, and the City of San Francisco declared October 25th, 1997 as "Celia Cruz's Day", to name a few.

But undoubtedly, one of the most memorable moments in her life was in 1994, when in the White House she received from the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, the highest honor this country bestows an artist: the National Endowment for the Arts.

Celia and her husband bandleader and trumpeter Pedro Knight have one of the most solid, loving marriages in entertainment. Married since 1962, the couple have worked together and traveled together throughout their marriage.

Celia's trademark use of the word "Azuuuuuuuuuuucar!" while on stage originated from a story she once told onstage about trying to get enough sugar for her beloved Cuban coffee. After telling the story to reporters and audiences repeatedly she decided to just enter a room saying "Azucar" a leaving it at that.

Simone Emmons of writes:

"Even though Celia is in heaven, her music will be with us forever. Celia is a legend. There has never been anyone else that has touched so many hearts with her music and made you feel the passionate rhythm of salsa. Her spirit is amongst us so let's show her how much she is being loved. Dedicate your feelings, thoughts, pain or prayer by writing in her dedicated guestbook at:"

Jennifer "Ojitos" Vargas of Solo Sabor Latin Entertainment writes:

"Celia Cruz 'La Reina de la Salsa' was taken from us on Wednesday, July 16th, 2003. Celia had surgery in December 2002 and continued fighting her battle with brain cancer. Celia passed away in her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey. This devasting news has shocked the world and has left many of us speechless with endless tears and saddened hearts who love Celia as much as I do. My sincerest condolences go out to Pedro Knight, all of her family members, Yari Mor? and all her loved ones on and off stage. We love you Celia and you will never be forgotten!!!
Read more about Celia here also a special note from Yari Mor?!"

Pilar Marrero writes:

"Que en paz descanse. ?Tremenda rumba debe de haber ahora en el cielo!"

CONTACTO Magazine writes:

"En enero de 1951, la reconocida orquesta La Sonora Matancera grab? su primer
disco con Celia Cruz. En aquel momento comenz? el ascenso al estrellato de "La
Guarachera de Cuba", tambi?n conocida en Estados Undos como "La Reina de la
Salsa". Durante los 11 a?os que siguieron a la grabaci?n del disco, La Sonora y
Celia recorrieron Suram?rica, el Caribe, M?xico, Europa y Estados Unidos. Con
la misma orquesta, Celia cant? en cinco pel?culas: "Una Gallega en La
Habana", "Ol? Cuba", "Rinc?n Criollo", "Piel Canela" y "Amorcito Coraz?n", y apareci? en la primera transmisi?n internacional de la televisi?n cubana."

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