Celia Cruz, who went from singing in Havana nightclubs to become the “Queen of Salsa,” died today (July 16) of a brain tumor. She was 77.
Cruz had surgery for the ailment in December but her health faltered. She died at her home in Fort Lee, N.J., according to her publicist.
Cruz studied to be a teacher in her native Havana, but was lured into show business when a relative entered her in a radio talent contest, which she won. She later studied music at the Havana Conservatory and performed at the wold-famous Tropicana nightclub.
In the 1950s, Cruz became famous with the legendary Afro-Cuban group La Sonora Matancera. She left Cuba after its 1959 revolution for the United States in 1960, and never returned.
With her powerful voice and flamboyant stage shows, Cruz helped bring salsa music to a broad audience. Her alliance with fellow salsa star and “Mambo King” Tito Puente garnered some of the biggest success in her career. The two recorded albums and regularly performed together, and they were considered legends of the genre.
She was also a member of the Fania All-Stars, the Afro-Cuban music collective that recorded for the Fania record label in the 1970s, along with Ruben Blades and Willie Colon. She dazzled listeners with fiery songs such as “Quimbara.”
She recorded more than 70 albums and had more than a dozen Grammy nominations. 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 Grammy Awards. Among her other best-known recordings are “Yerberito Moreno” and “Que le Den Candela.”
Called the “Queen of Salsa” and the “diva of Latin song,” Cruz remained energetic late into her career. At last year’s Latin Grammys, she showed up wearing a frothy blue-and-white headpiece and a tight red dress and gave a hip-shaking performance.
In 1987, she was honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and several years later, the city of Miami gave Calle Ocho, the main street of its Cuban community, the honorary name of Celia Cruz Way.
Cruz also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Smithsonian Institution and in 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton honored her with an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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