October 21 marks the birth of Celia Cruz (in 1920, 1924, or 1925). Born in Havana, Cuba, as Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, Celia Cruz was one of the most successful salsa singers and influential performers of the 20th century. Known internationally as the “Queen of Salsa,” she had twenty-three gold albums to her name.
She started singing at an early age, winning musical contest and small prizes. Her big break came when she became the lead vocalist for Sonora Matancera, the prominent tropical band of its day. Although record executives complained that a woman singing that style of music was not going to sell, the Sonora Matancera became a big success and she toured with the band through the 1950s. She married Pedro Knight, a trumpeter with the band, and in 1965, Cruz and Knight left the band to branch out on their own. Cruz collaborated with Tito Puente on many records. She also recorded albums with Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colón, and Ray Baretto.
In 1987 she received her own star on Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame.” After a hiatus in the 80s, Cruz’s career experienced a resurgence in the 90s, when she reaped some of the most satisfying rewards of a brilliant musical life. These awards included a lifetime achievement awards from both the Smithsonian and the Hispanic Heritage Organization, a street named after her in Miami’s Calle Ocho district as well as the distinction of San Francisco declaring October 25 as Celia Cruz Day. She also received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton.
Celia Cruz passed away in New Jersey on July 16, 2003.
For full biography, see http://latinmusic.about.com/od/artists/p/PRO01CCRUZ.htm