Entertainment

21 Things You Might Not Know About Celia Cruz, The Queen Of Salsa

Celia Cruz is the legend of all legends; the Queen of Salsa, La Guarachera de Cuba, an icon of Afro-Latinidad. We all know her for classic hits like “La Vida es Un Carnaval” and “Guantanamera” but she’s the icon we inherited from the last generation.

Here the woman, the myth, the legend behind “Azúcar!” and 21 facts you probably didn’t know about her.

Her full name is Ursula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

She was born October 21, 1925, making her the most famous Libra Latina to ever grace the planet Earth. She was born in the poor, working-class neighborhood of Santos Suárez in Havana, Cuba.

Cruz was brought up a devout Catholic, but the first angelic notes she sang were to Santería.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

Her neighbor practiced Santería and while her father highly opposed any other religion, she had a good time with her neighbor.

Cruz later studied Yoruba to sing alongside Merceditas Valdés.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

Cruz stayed in this religious genre for a little while, singing backup for female led productions. Eventually, she made her big break, though.

She started singing as a teenager because her tía took her to cabarets.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

A little context: back in the 1940’s, singing wasn’t considered a respectable profession. It was a different time where people weren’t as free to express themselves as they are now.

Her father’s influence won for a minute when she attended the Normal School for Teachers in Havana.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

One of her teachers at the school gave her the down low and told her to escape, quickly. They told her that she could earn a teacher’s monthly salary in a single day as an entertainer.

To appease her father, she went to school…at Havana’s National Conservatory of Music.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

Once she started getting gigs, however, another maestro told her to drop out of school and just pursue her career full-time. This was her moment.

Cruz started winning multiple “La hora del té” singing contests on the local radio.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

Venezuela was actually the first country to truly embrace her stardom. Her first recordings were made there in 1948. From there, she found her in.

Cuba’s Sonora Matancera lost their Boricua lead singer to her home island and Cruz tried out for the empty slot.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

She was the best thing to happen to Sonora. Soon, her name was far bigger than the band’s and she stuck with the band for 15 years.

Cruz didn’t even get to say goodbye to Cuba before she was exiled.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

It’s impossible to find a picture of Celia not smiling, but we know this was a very difficult time for her. The band was on tour in Mexico during the 1959 Castro take over of Cuba and the band decided not to return home. Instead, they crossed into the U.S.

Castro was so enraged by Cruz’ defection that he barred her from ever returning to Cuba.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

In 1961, she became a US citizen. She tried to go back to Cuba when her mother died in 1962 but the government wouldn’t let her in.

Never returning to her home was heartbreaking.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

In 1990, she visited Guantanamo Bay, U.S. territory on the island of Cuba. She heartbreakingly was on her homeland, but not in her Cuba. She reached between the fence to collect the Cuban soil that she would later be entombed with.

She ended up marrying Sonora’s trumpet player, Pedro Knight, in 1962.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

At this point, the Cuban exile community in the U.S. was idolizing this marriage, but they hadn’t reached mainstream American music ears just yet.

They stayed together for 40 years, until they died.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

Knight’s sideburns lived on until his death in 2007, when he was buried with Celia Cruz in the Bronx. But before all this morbid end to their lives, Celia conquered the world.

In 1994, President Clinton awarded Cruz the National Medal of Arts.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

Was someone looking for proof that #ImmigrantLivesMatter? Well, you don’t need it, it’s just true. But here’s proof that immigrants enrich the United States in every single respect.

The Queen of Salsa was known for her statement wigs.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

In a completely male-dominated industry, Celia took ownership to the very top of salsa music with her own flourish. Her unconfined joy and creative expression was the icing on top of that deep, other-worldly voice of hers. We’re all sold.

Here’s the story behind “Azucar!”

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

In a 2000 Billboard interview, she explains how she came up with her famous catchphrase:

“I was having dinner at a restaurant in Miami, and when the waiter offered me coffee, he asked me if I took it with or without sugar. I said, ‘Chico, you’re Cuban. How can you even ask that? With sugar!’ And that evening during my show … I told the audience the story and they laughed. And one day, instead of telling the story, I simply walked down the stairs and shouted Azúcar!”

A few years after marrying Knight, she dropped out of Sonora and joined Tito Puente to record eight albums.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

The albums didn’t go anywhere but the pair eventually started headlining concerts at Carnegie Hall. Her voice never aged and many claim that while she is the Queen of Salsa, her voice was truly operatic.

There isn’t a Grammy Award that she was nominated for that she didn’t win.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

Truly. She generated over fifty albums in her lifetime and four won Best Salsa/Merengue Albums.

Two years ago, she was awarded post-mortem the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

In her last years of life, she was awarded three Grammy’s. Never give up, kids. Give it your all till the end.

On July 16, 2003, Cruz died from brain cancer at the age of 77.

CREDIT: @celiacruzonline / Instagram

While Cruz never had children, she inspired a whole generation of artists who attribute her music, her grace and her strength in Afro-Latinx representation as their inspiration.

Apparently, Cruz’ dedication and inspiration is infectious, because she hugged Amara La Negra and now we’re stanning.

CREDIT: @AmaraLaNegraALN / Instagram

We’re hard pressed to find any quotes from Celia about what it was like embracing her Latinx blackness, but contemporary artists like Amara La Negra cite Celia Cruz as their ultimate validation and inspiration. The spirit of Cruz lives on in us all, but we like to think that she’d be saying a lot of the things Amara has been saying for years.


READ: Let’s Revisit Celia Cruz And Patti LaBelle Rocking The 1998 ALMA Awards

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Latinas Talk About Their Fave Dance Craze

Culture

Latinas Talk About Their Fave Dance Craze

Lawrence Manning

There’s no denying the fact that dance has a pretty firm place in the hearts of just about every Latin American culture. Across our countries and cultures, and thanks to native and Afro roots, Latin Americans know how to toe step and grind better than the rest of them. From salsa and bachata to danzón and merengue dance has permeated our lives making parties, ceremonies, and even sad occasions some of the most memorable and colorful.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we turned to Latinas to ask about their favorite dances from their cultures and how it has made their life better.

We posed the question “Latin America consists of many different cultural dances. What can you say about the ones from your país? We will be featuring your answers on one of our editorial pieces.⁠”

Check out the answers below!

“CUMBIA! And Joe Arroyo so beautiful said, ‘del Indio tiene la fuerza, y el Negro la fortaleza, que le imprime el movimiento.’”- lauraarendonn


“Ritmos africanos combinados con tambores pre-colombinos y la flambuya y elegancia de los gitanos y corte española. Mi herencia cultural es un sabroso pozole.”- mercedesmelugutierrez

“Chamamé, vanera… – Southern Brazil. Super important to the gaucho culture that southern Brazil shares with argentina and uruguay.”- its.lilas.world

“El baile de los viejitos, Michoacán, México.”- angelyly_



“Punta!! Like ‘Sopa de Caracol.’”- laura_gamez27

“Samba — originated in Brazil from men and women ( mostly from West African region) that were enslaved by Portugal — and brought to Brazil.”- la_licorne_en_velours_

“BOMBA!!! A style of dance in Puerto Rico heavily influenced by our African roots.”-xosamanthaotero


“Festejo… “- jesthefania

“Danza.”- karifornialove

“Cueca from Chile.”- calisunchine



“Huapango Arribeño- San Luis Potosí, Mexico.”-hijxsdetonatiuh



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‘Vintage Latinas’ Is Hyping Up WOC Entertainers Often Forgotten By Media

Fierce

‘Vintage Latinas’ Is Hyping Up WOC Entertainers Often Forgotten By Media

Amid a life-threatening pandemic, political upheaval and a dawning economic crisis, the future can feel frighteningly uncertain. We’ve all been coping in our own ways: from practicing meditation to trying out new recipes to starting creative projects. For me, joy has come in the form of history. Learning about women, particularly Latinas, who entertained audiences on the silver screen or at cabarets, fought for their countries and communities, and created beauty and fashion trends has brought me bliss at a time when I couldn’t even imagine happiness as a possibility. Realizing how healing the stories of our foremothers have been for me, I decided to create Vintage Latinas, an Instagram account dedicated to the Latina and Latin American women and femmes of yesterday.

Through the online community, I post daily photos and videos of women from the 1900s up until the early 2000s. I accompany each image with a lengthy caption that either introduces followers to former stars they’ve never heard of or shares little-known facts and stories about popular icons. Highlighting women and femmes across Latin America, the Spanish Caribbean and the U.S., the page is sprinkled with popular faces like Celia Cruz, Rita Moreno, Frida Kahlo and Bianca Jagger as well as radiant figures who aren’t as celebrated in popular media today like María Montez, Rosa Luna, Maribel Arrieta and Ajita Wilson. My goal is to commemorate the beauty, style, talent, brilliance and power of these women. To do so, I spotlight everyone from actresses, singers, dancers, models and showgirls to artists, designers, beauty queens, party czars, activists and trendsetters. 

It’s not surprising to me that at a time when I have limited control over the unpredictable future I decided to turn my attention to the past. A lover of history, I often find refuge in the narratives of people from yesterday who fought against powerful people, systems and countries to create change for their communities. This was no different. After losing my job in March and being locked up in quarantine for the months that followed, my mental and spiritual health took hard blows. While addressing the issues I was experiencing and developing a wellness routine, I decided to delve into literature about Julia de Burgos, Lolita Lebrón, Blanca Canales, Iris Morales and Denise Oliver-Velez — some of the Puerto Rican nationalists and revolutionaries I hold dear to my heart.

But unlike my experiences in the past, while rereading these works I began imagining the periods in which these women lived — the early- and mid-twentieth century — outside the political and social battles they were fighting.

Immediately, I found myself researching artists and actresses my heroines might have listened to and admired, expanding my interest in these eras beyond struggle and protests.

Soon, guarachas and boleros from artists like Myrta Silva, Carmen Delia Dipini, Lucecita Benitez and Toña la Negra were booming from my speakers more than my favorite reggaetoneros. I was spending my weekends happy that I was forced to stay home because that gave me the chance to search and watch Old Hollywood classics. Obsessed with the makeup and style of the women I was watching, I started repurposing the clothes in my closet to look like outfits inspired by some of my ‘60s and ‘70s fashion inspirations, like Lola Falana, Raquel Welch and Tina Aumont.

I was balancing news of a scary future with the stories and aesthetics of erstwhile powerful Latinas who resisted, lived and loved during similarly turbulent times.

When I started Vintage Latinas a month ago, I simply wanted to create a space where I could honor all the women who were positively influencing my life. For me, it was a hobby, something fun and joyful to do between freelance writing gigs and trying to land a full-time job amid a pandemic. But within days, the page grew into something more. Very quickly, people began following Vintage Latinas, commenting on the posts and sharing the content with their audiences. They even encouraged others to follow the page and called it their favorite account on Instagram. I knew that the dynamic personalities and enduring influence of these sensational women were as healing — or at least as captivating — to others as they were to me. By week one, the page went from a personal hobby to a creative project and online community where people from all over the world are remembering and discovering our Latina and Latin American heroines. 

As I embark on Vintage Latinas’ second month, I have several exciting plans I will begin executing. In addition to my daily posts about historic stars, I’ll be utilizing original and user-generated content to create a browsing experience I hope will excite followers. I’ll be creating activities, like trivia-style quizzes, polls and “Finish the Lyrics” games, featuring vintage images of the everyday matriarchs of the community and conducting interviews through Instagram Live with historians and modern-day Latinas who dress in vintage and pinup, among several other undertakings.

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Puerto Rican singer and politician Ruth Fernández is considered one of the most powerful women and barrier-breakers in Puerto Rican history. Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1919, Fernández began singing publicly as a teenager, performing at age 14 on local radio stations for 50 cents a day. Heard by Mingo, a famous bandleader, she was invited to join the group in 1940, becoming the first woman to sing in a Puerto Rican orchestra. Performing in nightclubs, dances and casinos, Fernández became a star on the archipelago. However, celebrity didn't save her from experiencing anti-blackness. In 1944 when her band was contracted to perform at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel for a benefit concert for the American Red Cross, she was told she had to enter the building through the kitchen door because of the color of her skin. But on the day of the show, Fernández ignored the racist protocol and entered through the main entrance. When asked years later about that night, she responded: "Me llamaron negra. ¿Negra? ¿Y qué?" From then on, she began referring to herself as "La Negra de Ponce." In 1972, Fernández was elected to Puerto Rico's Senate, representing the district of Ponce as a member of the Partido Popular Democrático de Puerto Rico until 1980. As a legislator, she sought reforms and better working conditions for artists and also considered the needs of Puerto Ricans living in the contiguous U.S. In her honor, a tenement in the Bronx — the Ruth Fernández Apartments — is named after her. Fernández has received awards from several countries in Latin America, while many cities in the U.S. — including Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles — have official "Ruth Fernández Days." She passed away in 2012 of a septic shock and pneumonia at the age of 92. Here she performs "Soy la que soy" in the 1960s. #ruthfernandez #puertorican #1960s #latinasdeayer #vintagelatina #vintage #vintagestyle #vintagefashion #vintagebeauty #retrostyle #blackbeauty #blackvintage

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The stories of our foremothers, who thrived or continued luchando despite racist systems, colonialism and state-instituted violence, are inspiring and must be preserved. Through Vintage Latinas, I aim to ensure their vibrant lives and contributions to culture and social justice aren’t forgotten. Instead, I want our barrier-breaking predecessors to be celebrated, and I hope you’ll join me in this digital rave that is equal parts history, culture, glam and community. 

Follow Vintage Latinas on Instagram.

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