Celia Cruz

The Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz rose, during the mid-twentieth century, to become one of the most important and dynamic performers of Latin American music. Born in Havana in 1925, Cruz came from a large working-class family. Her singing talent was noticed at a young age and, as a teenager, her aunt took her to cabarets to sing, against the wishes of her parents. She entered the Normal School for Teachers but dropped out, in 1947, to study piano, composition, and voice at the National Conservatory of Music. She began singing on the radio and made her first recordings, in Venezuela, in 1948. In 1950, Cruz was chosen as the new singer for Sonora Matancera and, through 1965, recorded a series of hits with the group and toured Latin America. In 1961, following the Cuban Revolution, Sonora Matancera left to tour Mexico, decided not to return, and Cruz and her husband settled in the United States. In 1966, she paired with Tito Puente and recorded eight albums for Tito which did not perform well. The duo moved to Vaya Records, where Cruz began working with Larry Harlow and headlined a concert at Carnegie Hall. Following her 1974 album with Johnny Pacheco, Celia y Johnny, she joined the Fania All-Stars and toured Europe, Latin America, and Africa. She continued recording and performing through the 1980s and was awarded a Grammy in 1990 for Best Tropical Latin Performance. She was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 1994 and became inducted into multiple Latin music halls of fame through the end of the decade. Her death from brain cancer in 2003 led to vigils across Latin America.