Celia Cruz is a major Latinx superstar. She is a source of major orgullo Latino, and a musical icon. She was, and continues to be, the artist whose music would play non-stop in the house, and at celebrations everywhere, for generation after generation. Celia is instantly recognizable, be it her powerful voice, equally bold, legendary style, or dazzling smile. There is so much we know and love about Celia Cruz, but so much more to learn.
Sometimes we take our legends for granted. We don’t realize all the work they put in to get where they are now and don’t delve deeper to learn as much as we can about our heroes and role models. This is true about Celia Cruz. We feel we know all there is to know about la estrella, but every additional fact we learn is a piece of the puzzle of her life, each an integral step towards the massive superstardom the Afro-Cubana achieved. This history shouldn’t be ignored, or forgotten — ever. We should learn it, and pass it on so that the younger generations will be inspired to also reach for greatness. Here we share 15 fabulous facts everyone should know about legendary Cuban singer Celia Cruz.
Her First Name Wasn’t Celia
We think we know everything about Celia Cruz, but did you know that Celia wasn’t actually her first name?! Surprising, right? Her full name was Ursula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso. She was born on October 21, 1925, in the Santos Suarez neighborhood, in Havana, Cuba.
When you become a huge star, you usually earn a few cool nicknames in the process. This is definitely true for Celia Cruz. She is known as La Reina de la Salsa, La Guarachera de Cuba, The Queen of Latin Music, and La Guarachera del Mundo. All appropriate titles, all perfectly describing Celia Cruz.
She Studied to Become a Teacher
Just like fellow Afro-Cubana legendary singer, La Lupe, Celia Cruz had studied to become a teacher. It was encouraged to her by her father and was a common, respectable vocation for women in Cuba at the time. Singing, unfortunately, was not seen as respectable, but it ended up being a fabulous career choice, and very respectable, for Celia.
Celia Has Three Streets (and Other Places) Named After Her
Part of Celia Cruz’s legacy includes the places that have been named after her. In addition to Celia Cruz Square, in Los Angeles, three streets have been named after La Reina de la Salsa. One is the iconic Calle Ocho, in Miami, which was renamed Celia Cruz Way.
She Recorded Over 70 Albums
During her epic career, Celia Cruz recorded over 70 albums. Among these were 23 albums that were certified gold, and others that earned platinum status.
Being Afro-Cubana Influenced Her Sound and Music
Celia Cruz was a proud Afro-Cubana. Her sound was definitely influenced by her African roots. For one, it included pregon, the street-seller’s cry or song in Cuba. It was also influenced by hearing santeria songs as a child, which included lyrics in the African dialect of Lucumi.
Celia Cruz Has Won Over 100 Awards
Over the 55-plus years of Celia Cruz’s career, the legend won over 100 awards. These include her numerous Grammys, Latin Grammys, Premio Lo Nuestro Awards, Billboard Awards, a Voices for Children Foundation Humanitarian Award, an Artist of the Millenium Award from Telemundo, a Golden Eagle Award, two Desi Awards, and more.
She Was the Lead Singer of La Sonora Mantacera
In 1950, Celia Cruz replaced another legend Mirta Silva, as the lead singer of La Sonora Mantancera. The Cuban and Afro-Cuban band played music in the genres of son, guaracha, bolero, cha-cha-cha, and guaguancó. Although she had to prove herself after replacing Silva, Cruz won over the public and took La Sonora to a whole other level of worldwide success. Celia Cruz left the band in 1965.
It Was There That Celia Met Her Soulmate
Other than the great music that resulted from Celia Cruz joining La Sonora Mantancera, she found the love of her life there. Pedro Knight (a.k.a. her “cabecita de algodon.”) was a trumpeter with the conjunto band, and later became Celia’s manager. The couple married on July 14, 1962, and celebrated 41 years of marriage, before Cruz’s death two days after their anniversary.
She Recorded the Classic Album Celia y Johnny
You’ve heard Celia Cruz’s music, but it’s important to know some of the specific albums that meant the most during her career trajectory. Celia Y Johnny, the album she recorded with Dominicano Johnny Pacheco, was released in 1974. It proved to be a major point in Cruz’s career, as it fused her Sonora Mantancera sound with salsa, creating a classic and leading to Celia becoming the Queen of Salsa. In 2013, Celia & Johnny was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.
Celia Cruz is Known for Her Iconic Style
Celia Cruz had an incredible voice and a stage presence that captivated her audiences. But the icon was also known for her over-the-top, equally bold and colorful style. This included voluminous wigs in all colors of the rainbow, bold jewelry, boho caftans, sequined mermaid dresses, ruffles galore, and those legendary, gravity-defying heelless shoes. Celiz Cruz was and continues to be, a fashion icon.
She Has a Hollywood Star
Celia Cruz was honored with her very own Hollywood star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on September 17, 1987. You can visit it at 6240 Hollywood Boulevard.
Celia Was Honored with the National Medal of Arts
The National Medal of Arts is the highest honor an artist can receive by the United States government. President Bill Clinton presented Celia Cruz with the medal in 1994.
Celia Received Three Honorary Doctorates
In addition to receiving the National Medal of Arts, Celia Cruz also added the title of doctor to her lengthy list of achievements. She was honored with three different doctorates: an honorary doctorate of music from Yale (in 1989), a doctorate honoris causa from Florida International University (in 1992), and a doctorate honoris causa in music from the University of Miami (in 1999).
Celia Was Honored With Her Own Stamp
You know you’re a legend, an icon, if you’re honored with your own stamp in the U.S. On May 16, 2011, the United States Postal Service released their Latin Music Legends stamp collection, which featured Selena, Tito Puente, Carlos Gardel, Carmen Miranda, and of course, Celia Cruz.