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Celia Cruz: 1924(?)—: Salsa Vocalist Biography

Traveled On Streetcar To Contests, Group Fled Cuba, Recorded For Fania Label

Although the Cuban-born music known as salsa, like other forms of Latin jazz and dance music, has been primarily male-dominated, its biggest vocal star is female. Celia Cruz has a powerful voice that transfers the rhythmic energy of salsa into the vocal medium, and she has been a prominent figure in the music since the beginnings of her career in Cuba in the 1950s. Leaving Cuba for the United States after the Castro take-over in 1959, Cruz has become a true legend of Latin American music and something of an emblem of Latin American identity.

The early facts of Cruz's life are somewhat obscure. Always reluctant to discuss her age, Cruz—according to some accounts—was born in Havana, Cuba, on October 21, 1924. Growing up in the city's poor Santo Suárez neighborhood in a household of 14 children (some were her cousins), she stood out because of her singing ability. Cruz won a singing contest called "La hora del té" and with her mother's encouragement began to enter other contests in various parts of Cuba.

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