From: Peter Nicholson (bournik_at_svn.net)
Date: 2003-07-17 05:54:28
Man, what a rough couple of weeks for elder states(wo)men....
Cuban Salsa Queen Celia Cruz Dies at 77
The Associated Press
Jul 16 2003 10:43PM
NEW YORK (AP) - Celia Cruz, who went from singing in Havana nightclubs to
become the ``Queen of Salsa,'' died Wednesday, her publicist said.
Cruz, who was 77, died of a brain tumor. She 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, Blanca Lasalle.
Her husband, trumpeter Pedro Knight, was at her side; the pair had
celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary on Monday, Lasalle said.
Ruben Blades, a frequent collaborator and friend, called Cruz a classy icon
whose dynamic performances became her trademark.
``Celia Cruz could take any song and make it unforgettable. She transcended
the material,'' Blades told The Associated Press
in a phone interview Wednesday night. ``With Celia, even the most simple of
songs became injected with her personality and her vigor.''
``I don't think you could hear anything she ever did and be indifferent,''
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 world-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.
``She became a symbol of quality and strength, and she became a symbol of
Afro-Cuban music,'' Blades said. ``You couldn't be a fan of Celia and not
be a fan of Afro-Cuban music, because she was Afro-Cuban music.''
Cruz dazzled not only with her voice but also her personality. Always
flashing a wide smile, the entertainer gave a highly energetic stage show,
punctuated often by her trademark shout, ``Azucar!'' in the middle of a
song. The word, which means sugar in Spanish, became her catch phrase after
a waiter apparently asked her, to her surprise, if she wanted sugar in her
Her alliance with fellow salsa star and ``Mambo King'' Tito Puente resulted
in some of the biggest successes 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 Blades and Willie Colon. She dazzled listeners with fiery songs such
Blades noted that although she was typically the only woman excelling in
the salsa field, she was never intimidated.
``She was a proud woman in a male-dominated business where she excelled
because she had class herself,'' he said.
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 Moderno'' and
``Que le Den Candela.''
Called the ``Queen of Salsa'' and the ``diva of Latin song,'' Cruz remained
energetic late into her career, popular with young audiences as well as
old. 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
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, President Clinton honored her with an award from
the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Recording Academy and Latin Recording Academy issued a statement
Wednesday that read in part: ``One of Latin music's most respected and most
revered vocalists, Celia Cruz was an icon of salsa, tropical and Latin jazz
music. ... Thank you, Celia, for teaching all of us that life should be
lived with much `Azucar!'''
Pop and salsa singer Marc Anthony, a friend who recently paid tribute to
Cruz at a gala concert, said in a statement: ``We are witnessing the end of
an era. She is simply irreplaceable and it's just an honor to know that she
was a part of my life.''
Blades said Cruz's music and the legacy she left behind would live on.
``The real death begins when you forget,'' he said. ``No one is going to
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