The passionate Queen of Salsa, Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alonso (1924-2003) was born on this day in Havana, Cuba. She grew up poor and dreamed of being a teacher. All that changed when a cousin entered her into a radio singing competition. Celia won first prize.
"When people hear me singing," she once said, "I want them to be happy, happy, happy."
In 1950, the flamboyant artist became the lead singer of the popular Afro-Cuban band La Sonora Matancera and recorded her first single, Cao, Cao, Mani Picao. "When I began to sing with La Sonora Matancera, I thought, 'This is my chance, and I'm going to do it,'" she said.
To protest the Communist government of Fidel Castro, Cruz left Cuba for the United States in 1960. She was labeled anti-revolutionary and her music was banned in her homeland.
But for the rest of the world, she became a unifying force in Latino music. Always singing in Spanish, Cruz collaborated with legendary timbales virtuoso Tito Puente and bandleader Johnny Pacheco. With her powerful voice, she recorded over 70 albums, with a rainbow of styles from religious chants, sambas, salsa, mambos, chachas, and more.
"As a performer, I want people to feel their hearts sing and their spirits soar," said the tireless singer.
Referring to Cruz's exuberant trademark shout of "Azúcar! (sugar)" in the middle of a song, Cuban-born star Gloria Estefan said in tribute: "I don't want to say that we've lost Celia because her music, her spirit and her 'azúcar' will always be with us."
Live your life with spirit and deep feeling.