Celia Cruz was arguably the greatest Cuban singer of her age, but sadly the post-revolutionary Cuban Government, instead of celebrating her achievements more or less disowned her. Her death in 2003 as ‘The Queen of Salsa’, resulted in a great outpouring of grief, respect and love from her fans, with more than 200,000 paying their respects in Miami alone, plus vigils in Cuba, Columbia and Miami. She was buried in a granite mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York near the graves of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, in which her husband Pedro Knight joined her after his death in 2007 and which apparently, in accordance with her wishes, also contained Cuban soil which she had brought from a visit to Guantánamo Bay in 1990.
Behind the great success of Celia Cruz, born in 1925, is the tragedy that the Cuban government never allowed her to return to her homeland in Cuba after she left in 1960, even for her mother’s funeral in 1962. The only time she returned was to sing to American troops in Guantanamo Bay in 1990, a moment both of joy and of sadness for her.
The American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Coral Gables in Miami has an excellent exhibition on her life, her music and her many achievements, including many of her iconic costumes, plus a gallery of photographs taken over many years by Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte and Tico Torres who met up with her at a concert here in London and became life-long collaborators. Celia was a very genuine person, with no airs and graces, and connected in a friendly informal and personal way with many Cubans in her concerts across the world, including my own family.
Celia Cruz was, without doubt, the greatest Cuban singer of her generation, with her career in Cuba taking off in 1950 when she became the lead singer for the group Sonora Matancera, recording several hits such as “Yembe Laroco” and “Caramelo”, appearing in Mexican films such as “Rincón criollo” and ” Amorcito corazón” while touring Latin America and giving regular performances at the famous Havana nightclub Tropicana. After the revolution, Sonora Matancera left Cuba to perform in Mexico in June 1960 and did not return.
Celiz Cruz and her husband Pedro Knight were never allowed to return to Cuba again. Such a tragedy!