Celia Cruz: Cuba's Greatest Export Since the Cohiba

You remember Celia Cruz don't you? She's the woman on Sesame Street who taught you how to count to 10 in Spanish...

Cuba has been in the news this past week, and the subject of normalizing relations with the country's communist regime can be a divisive issue. When it comes to Cuba, however, one thing we can all agree on is the awesomeness of Celia Cruz (1950 -2003).  

When Celia Cruz died of brain cancer in 2003, the world lost a singular talent and perhaps the greatest salsa singer in history. Born into a family of 14 children in Havana, Cuba, Cruz's tremendous vocal talent helped distinguish her from her brothers and sisters. After garnering a name for herself locally, Cruz achieved real stardom in 1950 when she was tapped to become the lead singer of the Sonora Matancera, a popular Cuban orchestra which she would ultimately front for 15 years. While on a 1959 tour of Mexico, the Communist overthrow of her homeland prompted Cruz (like so many others) to immigrate to the United States where she would eventually become an American citizen. Greatly angered by such a high-profile defection, noted Communist moron Fidel Castro barred her from ever returning to Cuba and made it illegal for Cubanos to play her music or listen to her albums.  

Along with her partner & husband, trumpeter Pedro Knight, Cruz would ascend to new levels of fame from her new home in the United States. She released a string of hit albums and would collaborate with nearly every latin bandleader of note, including legends such as Tito Puente and Johnny Pacheco. As ever widening audiences came to know her infectious, gap-toothed grin, overwhelmingly powerful voice, boundless enthusiasm and trademark catchphrase 'Azucar!' (sugar) Cruz established herself as the undisputed queen of salsa music; a role which she truly cemented during her collaboration with Pacheco and the groundbreaking Fania All-Stars musical ensemble of the 1970s.

Singing is my life. It has always been my life. It will always be my life.
— Celia Cruz

Accruing 23 gold records to her name, Cruz was eventually awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton and would later be honored with her own U.S. postage stamp as well as a Smithsonian exhibition dedicated to her life and legacy. Now at her eternal rest in the famous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, NY, Cruz was buried underneath a portion of Cuban soil which she saved during a post-banishment visit to the U.S. military installation at Guantanamo Bay.   

On a personal note, I've always been a Celia fan and have a few of her albums kicking around my collection. The woman's voice simply radiates positive energy and to listen to Celia Cruz is to be reminded that, even during cold Decembers such as this, there is always warmth to be found in this world.