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Celia Cruz Learned How To Sing By Performing Santeria, Here’s A Closer Look At Her Life And Story

Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz gave spirit to the world and introduced millions to Latin music and soul. During her lifetime she became the most popular Latin artist of the 20th century and created a legacy that granted her nicknames including the “Queen of Salsa”, “La Guarachera de Cuba”, as well as “The Queen of Latin Music”.

Here are 20 facts you about La Reina you probably didn’t know about her.

1. She was famous for saying ¡Azúcar! for a certain reason.

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Celia Cruz explained in an interview how she came up with the term when a waiter asked her what she wanted in her coffee. “I was having dinner at a restaurant in Miami, and when the waiter offered me coffee, he asked me if I took it with or without sugar. I said, ‘Chico, you’re Cuban. How can you even ask that? With sugar!’ And that evening during my show… I told the audience the story and they laughed. And one day, instead of telling the story, I simply walked down the stairs and shouted ‘Azucar!’”

2. Her name wasn’t Celia.

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The Queen of Latin Music was born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso. I mean how much more Latino can you get?

3. She sang santería songs in her early days.

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Despite the fact that she grew up in a very Catholic household, Celia Cruz learned santería songs as a child from neighbors who practiced.

4. She was a fluent Yoruba singer

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The West African language was one she mastered with her colleague and santería singer Merceditas Valdés.

5. She sang in cabarets as a teen.

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Cruz’s tía would take her to cabarets to sing and perform. Even when her father protested.

6. She started singing by winning a radio competition.

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The competitions often earned her cakes and opportunities to perform in more contests.

7. Cruz’s father was very religious and didn’t want her to be a singer.

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Being a singer wasn’t a career that was viewed with a lot of respect at the time. Still, when Cruz went to school to become a literature teacher, a professor of hers told her that as a teacher she could potentially earn a teacher’s monthly salary in just one day.

8. Living in Venezuela kicked off her career.

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Cruz’s first recordings were produced during her time in Venezuela in 1948.

9. She had 13 kids in her family.

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Celia was the oldest in her family of fourteen kids. As the oldest, she often put her brothers and sisters to sleep by singing to them.

10. Fidel Castro had it out for her and blocked her from returning to Cuba.

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When the dictator assumed power over her home country she was prohibited from returning.

11. She tried to return years later when her mother died but was denied access again.

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In 1962, after her mother’s death, Cruz attempted to return for her funeral but the government denied her request.

12. She recieved an award for her artistry from Bill Clinton.

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Criz was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994.

13. There’s a museum that has dedicated an exhibit to her style.

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Cruz’s flamboyant costumes were so famous that the Smithsonian Institution acquired one of her rumba dresses.

14. She was the winner of multiple Grammy awards.

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The singer won 5 Grammies throughout her lifetime.

15. She won several awards posthumously.

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In 2004, a year after her death, Celia won an award for Best Salsa Album. In 2016 the artist won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for her achievements and the dedication that she put into her career.

16. She became a member sever hall of fames.

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A few among them include International Latin Music Hall of Fame, New Jersey Hall Fame, and Billboards Latin Music Hall of Fame.

17. She took soil from Cuba when she came here.

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Cuban soil which she’d brought with her from her visit to Guantánamo Bay was used in her entombment.

18. You can see her on a U.S. postage stamp.

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On March 16, 2011, the United States Postal Service honored her with a commemorative postage stamp.

19. She was an actress as well.

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During her time with Sonora Matancera, Cruz made various cameos in Mexican films such as “Una gallega en La Habana” and “Amorcito Corazón.”

20. She would have been amazing at Coachella

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This is especially true considering that the Cubana performed to a packed house at New York City’s Central Park SummerStage outdoor performing arts festival.

21. Cruz died in New Jersey.

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The artist who managed to introduce Afro-Latino music and culture to nearly every corner of the world passed away in Fort Lee New Jersey at the age of 77.

22. Vigils were held across the globe in her honor.

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Havana, Cuba, Miami, Florida and Cali, Colombia were just a few of the countries that honored her after her death.


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A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’

Entertainment

A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’

Cuban singer and world-renowned Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz (RIP) has long been an inspiration to millions of men and women around the globe. Throughout her career and after her death, Celia’s fans have hailed her as a musical icon and a Cuban force of resistance. All of these years later, and Cruz who passed away in 2003, is still inspiring the generations that came decades after her.  In fact, in a bid to stake her claim in a college scholarship program, high school student  Genesis Diaz recently applied for and won a lucrative prize from Altice USA (the provider of Optimum and Suddenlink) all thanks to an essay she wrote about the late singer.

In her inspirational essay about the  Cuban singer, Diaz wrote about admiring Celia Cruz for being “unapologetically black.”

According to BKLYNER, Altice USA holds an essay contest in the fall to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (which runs from September 15 through October 15th). The prompt, which is given to middle and high school students, is to “name a Latino, past or present, with whom you would choose to spend a day and explain why.” The grand prize this year is a whopping $1,500 check which, if you remember college costs, can really help out any student eyeing higher education.

Diaz, a senior in James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York, won this year’s contest. Her essay was selected out of over 700 submissions from across the country, according to Jen Rivera from Altice USA, who spoke with BKLYNER.

In her powerful essay, Diaz wrote that she would want to spend the day with Celia Cruz because she exclusively surrounds herself with people who “radiate positive energy.”

“And who’s more positive than Celia Cruz?”, Diaz wrote.

But what she really captured in her essay on Cruz isn’t just her positive energy but rather the way that she was unapologetic about being Black and Cubana and how she used her African roots in her music. While writing about the artist’s accomplishments as well as her being Hispanic and Black, Diaz emphasized the effect that Cruz has had on the Latinx community throughout her life and beyond.

“Black has always been seen as a color of inferiority, which is why Celia Cruz’s early critics claimed that she did not have the right look,” she said in her essay. “She wasn’t an ideal artist simply because of her African descent.”

Diaz went onto say that Cruz “carried her African roots in her heart and through her lyrics… Celia told everyone, including me, how phenomenal and majestic it is to be unapologetically black.”

Diaz, who hopes to attend New York University and is anxiously awaiting her acceptance from the prestigious school, was celebrated last week by school officials, classmates, members of Altice USA and Council Member Chaim Deutsch

“I couldn’t believe I actually won!” Diaz said in her view.. “I was very proud and very emotional. I feel like people take entertainment figures for granted. What people don’t realize that these figures are activists also.”

Diaz’s description of Cruz as an activist and powerhouse, couldn’t be more accurate.  The Afro-Cubana proved herself to be an icon and hero in her time, when she rose to face as a salsa vocalist and eventually became the symbol and spirit of the Cuban expatriate community.

Celia Cruz has inspired countless amounts of people, including people like Amara La Negra.

“Growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me besides Celia Cruz. She was such a strong, powerful woman. She was a very inspirational person,” Amara La Negra told Latino USA about the late singer who considered her Blackness with a sense of pride that eventually turned songs like “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” into huge hits. “When Celia Cruz passed away, there was no one else to really look up to as an Afro-Latino or Afro-Latina on TV. So, I went and became a fan of Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Donna Summers, who are truly talented women and I truly admire them. But, as far as the Latin community, we really didn’t have anyone to look up to.”

For her part, Diaz, who her principal calls a “remarkable young woman,” has become her own source of inspiration. Not only did the award-winning student win the grand prize for her Celia Cruz essay but she has also started her own club “about Hispanic, Black and Carribean cultures,” according to BKLYNER. There, students can gather once a week to “discuss issues facing the school and the community as a whole.”

It’s extremely encouraging to see the younger generation fall in love (and be inspired by) Celia Cruz just as much as the rest of us were. Here’s hoping that Diaz, with her award-winning essay, continues to draw inspiration from the Cubana and that she herself embodies being “unapologetically black.”


Read: Meet Mona Marie, The Caribeña Helping Women Find Their Strength And Freedom Through Pole Dancing

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Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro Banned Celia Cruz From Returning To Her Country And 19 Other Facts You Didn’t Know About The Singer

Entertainment

Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro Banned Celia Cruz From Returning To Her Country And 19 Other Facts You Didn’t Know About The Singer

Despite being born in a country that would soon be under the control of Fidel Castro’s communism and having choose a musical career in an industry primarily dominated by men, Celia Cruz was born, without a doubt to shine like the Guarachera de Cuba and the most popular Latin artist of the 20th Century. 15 years after her passing, we remember la reina de la música latina.

The voice of a lullaby

Celia was among the eldest children among three other siblings and multiple cousins. As such it was often her job to help put the younger ones to sleep. She chose to enhance the task by singing lullabies to the little ones.

A powerful name

Even before setting foot on a stage, the “¡azucar!” singer was given a powerful name: Ursula Hilaria de la Caridad Cruz Alonso, which clearly spoke of her Catholic upbringing.

A ceviche of sounds

Against her father’s opposition and her religious upbringing, Celia developed a fascination for Cuba’s santería, its sounds and the history that surrounded it. The music of the first sonero mayor, lead singer of son music, Abelardo Barroso and outstanding tres player, Arsenio Rodriguez, influenced Celia’s musical career, along with the sounds of Merceditas Valdés, a santería singer and the words of Yoruba songs.

School dropout

Simon Cruz, Celia’s Father, encouraged her to attend school in the hopes she would become a teacher. She started attending the Normal School for teachers, however, contrary to the general advice that most young people receive from their teachers, Celia’s conservatory professor took notice of her voice and told her to drop out and focus on her career, which was already starting to shine in the radio in the late 1940’s.

A unique print

Celia navigated through different currents of music: rumba, mambo, guaracha, bolero, cha-cha, salsa and son cubano. Her style was very distinctive, besides incorporating African religious music, santería, she also made it a point to use pregones, the wails of street vendors in Cuba.

Singing child

Growing up Celia’s aunt took her and her sisters to sing at Cabarets for spare change. At radio stations La Guarachera de Cuba sang tango “nostalgias” (unrequited love songs) during the Hora del Té broadcasts. She would often win first place.

A star was born

Celia initially earned musical recognition as the lead singer of Sonora Matancera, a band she was part of for 15 years. She scored the job at age 25, after Myrta Silva, the band’s original lead singer, returned to her native Puerto Rico. Soon Celia’s own name overshadowed that of the band.

Multitalented

During her 15 years with Sonora Celia also appeared on some Mexican films such as Rincón Criollo (1950), Una Gallega en la Habana (1955) y Amorcito Corazón (1961). Years later, in 1976, she participated in the documentary Salsa, about the Latin Culture, alongside other music Stars like Dolores del Río and Willie Colón.

Adiós Cuba

In the early 1960’s, while touring with La Sonora in Mexico, Fidel Castro and his regime came to power, turning Cuba into a communist country. All but one band member refused to go back to Cuba under those political conditions, which lead to Castro issuing a lifetime ban. In 162, after Celia’s mother passed of Cancer, she attempted to return but was not granted government permission.

Rhythm of love

La Sonora Matancera wasn’t only the music platform that catapulted Celia’s professional career, it was also where she found her true love, Pedro Knight. The trumpeter courted Celia, without luck, since she joined la Sonora. Celia was afraid of getting herself romantically involved with Knight, who a well known player and had four children at the time. She finally fell for him and they got married in 1962. Knight gave up his own musical career to become Celia’s manager. Celia would often say “Pedro is my 50%. I am the one that sings, but he takes care of everything else.”

As Cuban as ¡Azúcar!

 

During a Billboard interview Celia explained how her famous ¡Azucar! came about. I was having dinner at a restaurant in Miami, and when the waiter offered me coffee, he asked me if I took it with or without sugar. I said, ‘Chico, you’re Cuban. How can you even ask that? With sugar!’ And that evening during my show … I told the audience the story and they laughed. And one day, instead of telling the story, I simply walked down the stairs and shouted Azúcar!

The brightest estrella

In 1974 Celia Cruz joined Las Estrellas de la Fania, Fania All Stars, a group formed by salsa musicians from every orchestra signed by the Fania Label. With Fania, Cruz had the opportunity to perform and England, France and tour Latin America. Her single “Quimbará” was established as one for her signature songs.

Fashion icon

Celia was many things, shy was not one of them. The singer enjoyed the attention, and her wardrobe made it evident. She became a fashion icon because of her bold, daring and wild costumes and wigs.

Talent Awarded

 

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During her lifetime Celia won 5 Grammy Awards. In 1994 President Bill Clinton awarded her with the National Medal of Arts in 1994. After her dead, her album Regalo del Alma, won the award for Best Salsa Album. She was also awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as recognition for her artistic career in 2016.

Celia Reinvented

Celia had a way of incorporating different rhythms into her musical composition and performances. In the 1980s and 1990s she performed and collaborated in songs with Wyclef Jean, Dionne Warwick, Patti Labelle and David Byrne.

Music above all

The Queen of Salsa recorded well into her seventies. In an interview with Mario Tarradell in 2002 she stated, “My life is singing. I don’t plan on retiring. I plan to die on a stage. I can have a headache but when it’s time to sing and I step on that stage, there is no more headache.” In 2003 Celia recorded Regalo del Alma, while already suffering from cancer.

Supporting young talents

Inspired by the resistance young Celia faced when she decided to take on a career in music, in the early 2000s The Celia Cruz foundation was created in order to support low income students that wanted to study music.

A final gift

Regalo del Alma, the last album Celia recorded while battling cancer, was released in 2004. It was the artist’s seventieth album, and featured the hit single “Ríe y Llora”, a song that spoke of the journey of life.

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