October 02, 2014 16:37 UTC

People in America

Celia Cruz, 1925-2003: 'The Queen of Salsa'

"Queen of Salsa" Celia Cruz arrives at the 3rd annual Latin Grammy Awards
"Queen of Salsa" Celia Cruz arrives at the 3rd annual Latin Grammy Awards

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story


STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus with People in America in VOA Special English. Today, we tell about Celia Cruz. She was one of the most influential and energetic female singers in the history of Afro-Cuban Music. More than seventy of her albums help document the history of the music known as salsa.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: That song was “Tu Voz”, which means “Your Voice” in Spanish. It was a hit song performed by Celia Cruz and her band, La Sonora Matancera, in nineteen fifty-two. They performed many hit songs. They toured all over the world together spreading the sounds of Cuba. “Tu Voz” is about love and desire. The music helps to transport you to the sunny streets of Havana, Cuba. Like most of the songs of Celia Cruz, this music makes you want to start dancing.

Celia made about seventy albums and won many awards
Celia made about seventy albums and won many awards

FAITH LAPIDUS: Celia Cruz was born in nineteen twenty-five in Havana, Cuba. Her parents were not musicians.  But music played an important role in her childhood. Her grandmother once said that Celia could sing before she could talk. Celia would often sing at school and community gatherings. Later, as a teenager Celia started competing in singing contests. She won many competitions.

Her father wanted her to be a teacher. But Celia wanted a career in music. She later said that she was both a singer and a teacher. She said that her music taught the world about Cuban culture and the happiness of living life to the fullest.

STEVE EMBER: Music is an important part of the cultural life of Cubans. During the nineteen thirties and forties in Havana, Celia heard many kinds of music. Famous music groups and singers would perform live on the radio. She could listen to dance music like the rumba, mambo and guaracha. These kinds of songs were influenced by the music of Africa and Spain. This Cuban music or “son” is defined by the beat of the drum and the call of the singer. It is music made for dancing.

FAITH LAPIDUS: In nineteen forty-seven Celia started studying at the Cuban Conservatory of Music. She was discovered a few years later by the music group La Sonora Matancera. This group of was one of Cuba’s most famous orchestras. Their lead singer had just left the band, so they needed a new performer. When the group heard Celia’s voice, they hired her immediately.

She was the most famous voice of salsa music
She was the most famous voice of salsa music

At first, listeners missed the band’s former singer. But soon, they fell in love with the powerful voice of Celia Cruz. Here is another of her songs recorded with La Sonora Matancera. It is called “Caramelos”.  Cruz tells about a candy seller singing in the streets about his delicious goods.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: In the early nineteen sixties, great political changes took place in Cuba. After a revolution, the communist leader Fidel Castro took power in the country. Like many other Cubans, Celia Cruz decided to move to the United States. She later became an American citizen and never again returned to her country.

A few years later, she married the trumpet player of her band, Pedro Knight. Soon Cruz and her husband separated from La Sonora Matancera. They had played together for fifteen years. But it was time to explore new musical choices.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Celia Cruz lived in New York City where Latin music could be heard in many forms. Many musicians were experimenting with mixing different traditions, rhythms, and styles.  The music known as salsa was a combination of Cuban “son” with other Latin sounds. This music expressed the happiness and the pain of life in Latin American communities.

Celia Cruz soon became the voice of salsa. She performed and made records with many musicians. She would wear wildly colorful clothing with tall shiny shoes. Her face was often painted with bright makeup.

And her dancing was as energetic as her voice.  Here is a recording of Cruz singing “Isadora” with Johnny Pacheco and the Fania AllStars.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: During the nineteen seventies Celia Cruz became famous for calling out “Azúcar!” while singing. This word means “sugar” in Spanish. Cruz would shout out this word to energize her band and her audience. You can hear her saying this word in many recordings.

She said that her music taught the world about Cuban culture
She said that her music taught the world about Cuban culture

Celia Cruz always enjoyed taking on new projects. She sang many songs with musicians that were not salsa performers. For example, she sang with the hip-hop singer Wyclef Jean on one of his albums. She also sang with musicians such as David Byrne and Patti Labelle.  Cruz also appeared in several movies. One of her most well known roles was in the film “The Mambo Kings” in nineteen ninety-two. Not surprisingly, Cruz plays the part of a salsa singer. Here is Cruz performing the song “Guantanamera” from the sound track of this movie.

(MUSIC)

FAITH LAPIDUS: Celia Cruz enjoyed a full and successful life. She won many Grammy Awards. With her seventy albums, she became the most famous voice of salsa music. She was a strong and powerful woman in a music industry made up mostly of men.

In two thousand three, Celia Cruz died as a result of brain cancer. Her life was celebrated at two funerals. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the funerals. Actors, politicians, musicians as well as thousands of fans attended to say goodbye to the Queen of Salsa.

We leave you with the song “Rie y Llora” from Celia Cruz’s last album. It is a song about laughing and crying.  Cruz reminds her listeners to live their lives fully and enjoy every moment.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Steve Ember.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus.  Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Ebola Dallas Hospital

    Audio First Ebola Case Reported in US

    An unidentified person has brought Ebola into the U.S. from Liberia. This person is being treated. Those he or she came into contact with are being closely watched. More

  • Ebola Liberia

    Audio US Troops Help to Fight Ebola in Liberia

    US is sending 3,000 troops to Liberia to help build medical centers where people infected with the virus will receive care. It will be the largest U.S. military operation in Africa since American troops left Somalia in 1993. More

  • A pro-democracy activist shouts slogans on a street near the government headquarters where protesters have made camp in Hong Kong, Oct. 1, 2014.

    Audio Protesters Call for Hong Kong Chief to Step Down

    Also at least 10 people were killed on Wednesday when shells hit a school playground and a minibus in Donetsk, Ukraine. And, U.S.-led airstrikes hit near a key Syrian border town for a second day, as Kurdish fighters defend the area from Islamic State militants. | In the News More

  • South Koreans march during a rally 100 days after the ferry Sewol sunk in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2014.

    Audio Ferry Investigation Divides South Korea

    South Korean lawmakers have agreed to launch a new investigation into the deadly passenger boat accident in April. But many people are not happy with the measure. Other citizens protest a second investigation. More

  • Mercedes Garcia of El Salvador fills in the application for her new ?green card? while waiting in a predawn line outside the Immigration and Naturalization Service office on Wednesday, March 20, 1996 in Los Angeles. Wednesday was the deadline to apply for

    Audio US 'Green Card' Lottery Registration Begins

    The US government’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes 50,000 visas available every year. The program is designed for people from countries that have “historically low rates of immigration to the United States.” | As It Is More

Featured Stories

  • Children exercise during a weight-losing summer camp in Shenyang, Liaoning province, August 3, 2009. Obesity is becoming one of the biggest threats to children's health, a nationwide investigation has warned, pointing out that students' physical indicator

    Audio Physically Fit Children Do Better in School

    Several studies found that children who had physical activity on a usual basis improved in school. The children also learn best if physical activity is included during class or before. | Health Report More

  • Union and Confederates troops clashed on July 21, 1861 near Manassas Junction, Virginia.

    Audio Manassas Ends Hope for a Short War

    Many northerners wanted Union forces to seize the new Confederate capital and quickly end the rebellion. Pro-Union newspapers urged, "On to Richmond!" But the North soon learned it needed a better trained army to fight the Confederacy. More

  • Singer Lorde performs at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada May 18, 2014.    REUTERS/Steve Marcus (UNITED STATES  - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)  (BILLBOARDAWARDS-SHOW) - RTR3PR0U

    Audio Lorde Releases Single for 'Hunger Games' Soundtrack

    The 17-year-old New Zealander is curating the soundtrack. The album is to be released a few days before 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One' opens November 21st. | American mosaic More

  • The US is a nation of immigrants. But China is a nation of ... Chinese.

    Audio US, China: A Look at Immigration and Migration

    The U.S. and China have the two largest economies filled with opportunities and jobs. In 2013, a Pew study found that 45 million international migrants lived in the United States. Yet only “850,000 people living in China were born in other countries.” More

  • Artist conception of ISEE-3 in space.  (ISEE-3 Reboot Project)

    Video Citizen-Scientists Take Control of Old Satellite

    Former NASA engineer helps group get information from a satellite that was launched in the 1970s and had been silent for years; giving an old satellite a new mission. | As It Is More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs