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Celia Cruz: 1924(?)—: Salsa Vocalist

Group Fled Cuba

At the time of the Communist takeover of Cuba in 1959, the group was slated to tour Mexico; from Mexico, rather than returning to Cuba, they entered the United States and remained there. Cruz herself became a U.S. citizen in 1961. Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro was furious and barred Cruz from returning to Cuba, enforcing the ban even after Cruz's parents' deaths. Cruz for her part has vowed not to return to Cuba until such time as the Castro regime is deposed. In 1962 she married La Sonora Matancera trumpet player Pedro Knight.

Although Cruz had made numerous recordings with La Sonora Matancera, she experienced little success in the United States in the 1960s. Although she spoke English well she refused to record in the language. Younger Hispanic Americans at the time were gravitating away from big-band dance music and toward rock-and-roll, in both Latin and non-Latin inflections. Cruz's fortunes began to improve when she meshed her talents with those of the musicians and bandleaders who were creating the new music called salsa—chief among them Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, and Willie Colón.

Salsa was firmly rooted in Cuban dance traditions, but it was a high-energy new hybrid that incorporated elements of jazz, traditional Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and other forms. It was an ideal medium for the showcasing of Cruz's vocals, for she was both an exciting improviser (she is known for her vocal imitations of instruments in the manner known as "scat" singing in the jazz world), and a singer with the power to stand up to an intense rhythm section. Cruz on stage was a commanding figure whose control over audiences resulted not only from her flamboyant, stage-filling attire, but also from her ability to engage them in call-and-response patterns that spring from salsa's Afro-Cuban roots.

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