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Remembering Celia Cruz On The Anniversary Of Her Death

When it comes to Cuban music, one name stands heads and shoulders above the rest: Celia Cruz. She was, without a doubt, the greatest female singer and performer ever. During her 60 year career Celia was the the measure of that which did not suck. Though she spent most of her career in the United States (you know, because of the whole Castro thing), she is still beloved back on the island and throughout the world.

Celia started out as a very young singer playing with La Sonora Matancera, one of Cuba’s premiere bands of the 50s. This was back in the days when bands would play in big hotel and casino shows The Tropicana and other smaller mafia run establishments. You know, the kinds of joints where tourists would come to drink and play grab ass with the waitresses. All that debaucherous behavior, however, would stop as soon as Celia hit the stage. You couldn’t take your eyes off of her. Her energy was so contagious and powerful it would force you on your feet to at least attempt to dance. She would let out her signature scream of “¡Azucar!” and the party would really get started.

In 1959, she and a lot of other Cuban musicians left in the wake of Castro’s Commie beard party. Celia and her husband (and bandleader) Pedro Knight headed for New Jersey for whatever unknown reason. She was already well known states-side from her previous performances in the big Latin clubs. During the 1960s, New York-based Cuban musicians started playing gigs with the Puerto Ricans in exotic locales like the Bronx and Spanish Harlem. The synthesis of these two influences created the dominant Afro-Caribbean music of the last 40 years: Salsa. Celia was at the forefront of the movement, establishing herself as the “Queen of Salsa”. Her collaborations with Willy Colon, Tito Puente, Rey Barreto and other Salsa luminaries made her a legend. She spent the next 40 years touring all over the world with her crazy wigs and costumes, showing any newcomers how it was done.

Celia passed away in 2003 of a brain tumor. Her body was put to display at Miami’s Freedom Tower, where 200,000 people came through to pay their last respects.When her body was returned to New York for burial, thousands lined the streets of the Bronx as her funeral procession went by.

Required Listening: “El Yerbero Moderno,” “Quimbara,” “Melao de Caña,” “Usted Abuso”, “Azucar Amarga,” “Burundanga,” “La Negra Tiene Tumbao Go download these now. NOW, WE SAID!

On a personal note, we once had the great honor of meeting Celia when we were 8. She pinched our cheeks and gave us a big hug. We were so nervous we couldn’t talk. It was one of the few times in our life where we were truly starstruck.

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