Multiple Grammy winner Celia Cruz, queen of salsa and celebrated epitome of Cuban music, died Wednesday in her Fort Lee, N.J., home from brain cancer. She was 77.
She was seen by Cuban exiles as a symbol of their long-missed homeland pre-Castro and was a living legend of defiance against him while being keeper of the music she loved.
A star for six decades, she made the Top 5 radio playlists last year with “La Negra Tiene Tumbao,” blending traditional Latin music with hip-hop. She made more than 76 records, won two Grammys and three Latin Grammys, appeared in such films as “The Mambo Kings” and “The Perez Family” and has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
“There can never be another Celia Cruz,” the Miami Herald quoted Israel ”Cachao” Lopez, credited with creating the mambo. “Nobody has her grace, her style, her voice. … She was born to be a legend.”
Havana native began by winning a radio singing contest in her hometown. “She went on to be the voice of Cuba,” in the words of trumpeter Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros. But she left her homeland in 1960.
Tito Puente ushered her into New York’s Latin jazz world. Into her late 70s, she packed houses in Latin America, Germany, Sweden, Japan, England and elsewhere. She was performing as late as December.
She and husband-trumpeter Pedro Knight’s 41st wedding anniversary was Monday.
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 of the Arts.