Chart Beat

Celia Cruz & Willie Colón’s 40th Anniversary Reissue of 1981's 'Celia & Willie' Arrives on Billboard Charts

Celia Cruz & Willie Colón
Courtesy Photo

Celia Cruz & Willie Colón

‘Celia & Willie’ debuts at No. 3 on Tropical Albums chart.

It’s taken 40 years for Celia Cruz and Willie Colón to debut in tandem on a Billboard chart as their 1981 set Celia & Willie arrives at No. 3 on the Tropical Albums chart dated June 26.

Their collaborative effort, originally released January 1981 by Fania Records, was reissued via Vaya/Craft/Concord exclusively for Record Store Day on June 12. The 40-year anniversary edition, all analog-mastered from the original tapes by Kevin Gray, was pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI.

“I think the most important thing is the quality of the sound, the arrangements, the talent,” Colón tells Billboard. “Today recordings happen in five days. Back then, we recorded in five weeks or even five months. It’s very important to emphasize the comparison of a recording back in the day with those of today: Although old recordings were simpler, one can hear the detail, the honesty. There is no one who sings like Celia Cruz at present, nor will there ever be.”

Celia & Willie starts with 2,000 equivalent album units earned in the week ending June 17, according to MRC Data. The set’s opening bulk derives mostly from album sales.

It earns the late Cruz her 18th top 10 on Tropical Albums (her 14th posthumous top 10). It concurrently earns Cruz her highest debut on the tally dating back to the No. 4-peak album Homenaje a Benny More Vol. 3, with Tito Puente, in 1986. In between, the queen of salsa, has locked three No. 1s on the tally: Hits Mix (five weeks at No. 1 starting July 2003), Éxitos Eternos (17 weeks at the summit starting Sept. 2003) and Regalo del Alma (seven weeks atop the chart starting August 2003).

“Although Celia was extremely professional and jealous with her work and being the queen -no one would approach her because of her career and talent -- she would be crazy happy with this achievement, laughing humbly, of course,” Colón muses. “For a star of her stature, she was a very generous and simple person. She would be extremely thankful with this debut.”

Nuyorican trombonist and singer-songwriter Colón captures his seventh top 10. Celia & Willie is Colón’s first joint effort with a female act to visit Tropical Albums. In fact, it’s his first ever with a woman to enter a Billboard chart. It follows Cosa Nuestra, with the late Hector Lavoe, released originally in 1969, which also bowed at No. 3 thanks to its 50th anniversary reissue (chart dated Oct. 10, 2020).

“When we did ‘Usted Abusó,’ a Brazilian song, Celia told me, 'Oh Willie, I can't sing that,’” Colón remembers. “I told her she could and that she would do well. When this recording came, we had already overcome the complexes of past recordings, we already had the chemistry of singing together. We even recorded 'Cucurrucucú Paloma,' a ranchera, we did boleros, 'Berimbau,' another Brazilian song. She always had a tremendous disposition to keep going until everyone was happy. I am very grateful and happy to have been able to work with Celia.”

The 10-track Celia & Willie, originally produced by Colón, boasts Cruz on lead vocals with arrangements by Luis “Perico” Ortiz and Louie Ramirez. It concurrently bounds on Top Latin Albums at No. 42. It’s Cruz first visit to the all-genre Latin list in almost eight years. (The Absolute Collection debuted and peaked at No. 27 in August 2013.) For Colón, this is his fourth Top Latin Albums entry. It succeeds Cosa Nuestra, with Lavoe (No. 37 debut and peak, Dec. 2020).

“If Celia would be here, we would be celebrating with a hug and a brandy,” Colón adds. “Unfortunately, we can’t and I have to settle for a soup because I am recovering from an accident that I miraculously survived. I shouldn't be here but I am. Thanks to all the fans and my friends for those words of encouragement. It’s been difficult these past months but soon we will see each other again. Thanks to Billboard for the recognition and to the public, but above all, thanks to Celia.”