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Celia Cruz: 1924(?)—: Salsa Vocalist

Traveled On Streetcar To Contests

Sometimes Cruz would travel to the contests with a cousin named Nenita. "I was very skinny and tiny," she told Billboard. "And since the tram cost five cents each way and we didn't have enough money, I'd sit on Nenita's lap, because she was bigger. The drivers knew us and, sometimes, they'd let me sit on the seat beside her, if it was empty. One time, we had no money to return and we walked back. We arrived at 2 a.m."

Cruz's father, however, believed that she should become a teacher, an altogether more common profession for a Cuban woman at the time. She enrolled at the national teachers' college, but dropped out after finding more and more success with her music in live and radio performances. Something of a compromise was reached when she enrolled at Havana's National Conservatory of Music—but there a professor encouraged her to consider a full-time singing career.

Her breakthrough came in 1950 when she became the lead vocalist for a big band called La Sonora Matancera. Bandleader Rogelio Martínez showed faith in Cruz when he continued to feature her despite the protests of fans of the band's previous vocalist, and once again when an American record executive resisted the idea of making a Sonora Matancera disc that featured Cruz, believing the a rumba record with a female vocalist would not sell well. Martínez promised to pay Cruz himself if the recording flopped. It did well in both Cuba and the United States, and Cruz toured widely through Central and North America with La Sonora Matancera in the 1950s.

At a Glance . . .

Born on October 21, 1924; raised in the Santo Suarez neighborhood, Havana, Cuba; came to the United States in 1960, and became a citizen in 1961; married Pedro Knight, trumpeter, 1962. Education: Studied at National Conservatory of Music, Havana, Cuba, 1947-50.

Career: Began singing on Cuban radio in the late 1940s; became lead singer of Cuban big band, La Sonora Matancera, 1950, recording and touring with them until 1965; joined Tito Puente Orchestra,1966; recorded eight albums with Puente; sang the role of Gracia Divina at Carnegie Hall in Hommy—A Latin Opera (adaptation of Tommy), 1973; signed to Fania label and performed with Fania All-Stars group, 1970s; appeared in The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and The Perez Family; has recorded over 50 albums, 20 of which became gold; performed worldwide.

Awards: Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album, 1989, awarded medal by President Bill Clinton from the National Endowment of the Arts, 1994.

Addresses: Record Company—Omar Pardillo-Cid, RMM Records, 568 Broadway, Suite 806, New York, NY 10012; Agent—Bookings Online Talent Agency, Ltd., 236 West 26th St., Ste. 701, New York, NY 10001.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) BiographyCelia Cruz: 1924(?)—: Salsa Vocalist Biography - Traveled On Streetcar To Contests, Group Fled Cuba, Recorded For Fania Label