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PHOTO ESSAY

Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography

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Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz (1925–2003) (Photofest)

Known as the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz began her multi-decade professional singing career performing son, mambo, cha-cha, bolero, and other Cuban genres as a young woman in Havana. With the popular Cuban dance band La Sonora Matancera, she broke new ground for female performers in 1950s Cuba by achieving widespread success as a female lead singer with a dance band. After the Cuban Revolution, Cruz and La Sonora Matancera defected from Cuba while on tour in Mexico in 1960, relocating to the United States, where Cruz lived and worked until her death in 2003. With musicians including Tito Puente, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, and Hector Lavoe, Cruz popularized the dance music called "salsa" that emanated from 1970s New York with its musical roots in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and she toured internationally as the only female musician in the Fania All-Stars. She was known for performing in elaborate costumes and makeup, and for her trademark cry "Azucar!" (Sugar!). Cruz cultivated mainstream appeal for salsa, and regularly performed songs that referenced the Afro-Cuban religion Santería, though she avoided the overtly political lyrics favored by many male salseros in the 1970s. However, in public life she was an outspoken critic of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. DCALAB author Rebecca Bodenheimer writes, "On the island, Cruz's songs were subjected to absolute censorship, banned from radio and all public media circulation. However, tapes of her music continued to circulate clandestinely, and despite her political orientation, she was held in high esteem by Cubans of all ages, who claimed her as their own."

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