Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Celia Cruz Dies

Celia Cruz, the electrifying Cuban singer known as the “Queen of Salsa,” died July 16 died in her Fort Lee, N.J. home of complications after brain tumor surgery. She was 77.

Though she wasn’t truly a jazz artist, Cruz did work within the jazz idiom at times and the work she did to promote Cuban music in the United States aided the efforts of people like Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente, who were integrating the vibrant Cuban sound into jazz.

Cruz was a born singer. Growing up in Havana as part of a poor family, Cruz sang her brothers and sisters asleep. Later on a cousin encouraged her to sing in a radio talent contest, which she won, and later she attended the Havana Conservatory. It was with the popular Cuban band La Sonora Matancera, which she joined in 1950, that she gained the experience that would turn her into a star. The group toured incessantly, in and out of Cuba, and in 1960, just after Fidel Castro came to power, Cruz was touring in Mexico. She decided then to defect from Cuba and was never allowed to return home, even for her father’s funeral.

Cruz settled in New York and joined the Tito Puente Band in 1966. She can be heard on the Puente collection 50 Years of Swing and on a 1971 she cut with Puente for the Tico label, En Espana. That album’s title describes Cruz’s career-long MO: she always sang in Spanish and said that her English was not good enough for her to sing in comfortably. Cruz’s solo output began in 1958 with La Incomparable Celia and continued until 2002. She made over three dozen albums on labels like Tico, Vaya and RMM. For her efforts Cruz received several Grammy nominations and, at last year’s Latin Grammy ceremony, won the best salsa album award for La Negra Tiene Tumbao.

Cruz is survived by her husband, Pedro Knight, who played trumpet in La Sonora Matancera and two sisters.

Originally Published