Thousands Mourn Salsa Legend Celia Cruz

Tens of thousands of mourners lined the streets of Miami on Saturday to pay their respects to salsa legend and Cuban exile Celia Cruz, weeping at her casket but also celebrating her music and shouting

Tens of thousands of mourners lined the streets of Miami on Saturday to pay their respects to salsa legend and Cuban exile Celia Cruz, weeping at her casket but also celebrating her music and shouting her trademark phrase, "Azucar!"

"This is Celia's day. She is the personification of Cuba, the free Cuba and the future Cuba," said Roly More, grandson of singer Benny More.

The number of people paying their respects was estimated at more than 75,000. The line stretched for 15 blocks at one point for the viewing at the Freedom Tower -- the Ellis Island of the Cuban community, where immigration officials processed more than 500,000 Cubans who fled Fidel Castro's government in the 1960s.

Later, at Cruz's funeral Mass, family members, friends and fans remembered her engaging personality and energetic performing style. Singer Gloria Estefan, one of several featured speakers at the two-hour service, promised that "Celia will always live on."

Cruz, 78, who recorded more than 70 albums, died Wednesday of a brain tumor at her home in Fort Lee, N.J. She won best salsa album for "La Negra Tiene Tumbao" at last year's Latin Grammy Awards, and won the same award at this year's Grammys. Her other best-known recordings include "Yerberito Moderno" and "Que le Den Candela."

Many mourners held roses, some waved Cuban flags and most tried to shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas or floppy hats in the Cuban national colors of red, white and blue. While there was much weeping at Cruz's open casket, whenever the mood became too somber inside the tower people erupted in cheers, chanting "Celia, Celia." They clapped their hands to her music, blaring through speakers.

The casket was surrounded by white and purple flowers, as well as American and Cuban flags. On one side, Cruz's husband, trumpeter Pedro Knight, stood dressed in black with other family and friends.

Even after nine hours of public viewing, several thousand people were left unable to view the body when the doors to the Freedom Tower were closed to prepare for the procession to Gesu Catholic Church, where a memorial Mass was celebrated Saturday night.

Cruz's casket, wrapped in a Cuban flag, was loaded onto a limousine led by men in white shirts carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary. Onlookers tossed roses at the slow-moving procession as Cruz's family and friends walked behind the limousine.

Across the street at Gloria and Emilio Estefan's Bongo's restaurant, celebrities and political and business leaders waiting for the procession ate sandwiches and croquettes as they remembered Cruz's influential 50-year career. "She's inspired everyone in this room," said Jorge Moreno, a Miami-based Latin pop singer who performed with Cruz. "I always looked at her like a grandmother."

Cruz came to the United States in 1960, a year after the Cuban revolution. She became so popular in Miami that Calle Ocho, the main street running through the city's Cuban community, has the honorary name of Celia Cruz Way.

Cruz's body was to be returned to New York yesterday (July 20). On Tuesday, a funeral Mass is set for the city's St. Patrick's Cathedral.


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