Celia Cruz died of brain cancer yesterday at her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The "Queen of Salsa" was seventy-eight.
The flamboyant and exuberant Cruz was born in Havana on October 21, 1924. She attended the country's Conservatory of Music and by 1950 was singing in the immensely popular band, La Sonora Matancera. Cruz sang with the group for more than a decade. She was traveling in the United States with the ensemble during the 1959 revolution in Cuba -- within a year, she became a permanent U.S. resident. Two years later, she married La Sonora Matancera trumpeter Pedro Knight; the couple celebrated their forty-first anniversary on Monday.
For the next four decades Cruz dazzled audiences with her energetic vocals, her trademark penchant for shouting "Azucar!" ("Sugar!") mid-song, and garish performance attire that was never wanting for bright colors and things that sparkled. She recorded prolifically with late percussion legend Tito Puente through the late Sixties and early Seventies, and continued to entertain audiences until as recently as last year.
Cruz's legacy will live on in her recordings, which number more than seventy, and footage of her dynamic live performances. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Smithsonian Institution and thirteen Grammy nominations (she won twice), and Miami renamed one of its streets Celia Cruz Way.