The late salsa queen Celia Cruz will always be a musical legend to many—Latinos especially. The world still remembers her vibrant voice, her refrain of ¡Azúcar! And her towering wigs. So you could imagine my excitement when I learned a new television series about her life is being made. Endemol Shine North America and Major TV are currently working on an English-language TV series based on the best-selling autobiography, Celia: My Life. Did I mention it’s in English?
Film and TV producer, director and choreographer, Kenny Ortega (known for his work in High School Musical) has signed on as the show’s executive producer and director. Apparently Ortega worked with Celia back in the day as a choreographer in the 1988 movie Salsa.
“I had the extraordinary honor of working with Celia Cruz many years ago as a burgeoning choreographer on a little movie called Salsa,” he was quoted saying in a press release. “While we were working together, Celia and her husband invited me to join them for her concert at the Hollywood Palladium. Celia seated me in a chair on stage and I was there, in the light, watching La Reina de la Salsa, hypnotizing the audience with her voice and performance magic. Over the years, my appreciation of her gift to music has grown and deepened. Celia has been an inspiration for so many and I am honored to participate in this tribute of the incomparable Celia Cruz.”
Celia has remained a musical icon for a number of reasons. Not only was her music vibrant and captivating but her story alone was inspiring. A black Cuban woman from humble upbringings—Celia managed to transcend race and gender in a time when Afro-Latinxs and women were not really being seen. She came from a modest home in Cuba, spent years exiled in Mexico, and eventually hit stardom in the states—a major milestone for an Afro-Latina back then.
“Celia Cruz was a black woman, of limited means, who painfully abandoned her small island and triumphantly conquered the world with the power of her voice. Her story is a testament of perseverance, hope and inspiration that deserves to be told,” Omer Pardillo Cid, Executor of the Celia Cruz Estate and her former manager said in an official press release statement.
This is not the first time a show is being made about the Cuban singer though. There was a Spanish-language television series called Celia that aired on Telemundo in 2015. Celia’s story is even making its way to the theater with a new musical Celia: The Musical premiering in August at the Starlite Festival in Marbella, Spain.
But what’s exciting about this new show is the fact that English viewers will be able to tune in. Celia’s story and journey isn’t just an inspiration to the Latinx community but to everyone. Here’s a look at why the Cuban singer will always be the queen of salsa and a musical icon for life.
She overcame tremendous obstacles.
Not only did Celia grow up with very limited means but she also launched her musical career during the Cuban Revolution. Her career kicked off after she migrated to the U.S. at a time when Latin music was still not being recognized in the states.
She broke boundaries.
“With a voice that transcended language, color, race, and gender, Celia Cruz broke barriers, changed the landscape of music and became a Global icon. Capturing her authorized life story for the first time on screen, in any language, is an incredible milestone,” Major TV’s Raymond Garcia said in an official statement. “We are honored to have the captivating vision of Kenny Ortega guiding this production. His universal sensibility in story-telling, expertise in resonating with viewers through music and dance, coupled with his sincere cultural and personal connection with Celia, makes this one of the most important, moving, and electrifying series of all time.”
She brought Afro-Cuban music to the world stage.
Before Celia, you didn’t really see Black Latinas leading salsa bands. In fact, you rarely ever saw a woman really making a name for herself in the highly male-nominated genre. But even in the face of racism and sexism, Celia managed to find a way to make herself seen and her music heard.
She incorporated her West African roots and and spiritual beliefs in her music.
You might not have ever realized it before, but Celia made a point to incorporate spiritual elements from the West African diaspora in Cuba like lucumí and santería (that are rooted in Yoruba spirituality) in a lot of her songs. Listen to her famous track “Bemba Colorá.”
She made big moves in the music biz.
Celia signed to Secco records in the 1960s and was the lead singer for the band La Sonora Matancera. She went on to record more than 70 albums.
She wasn’t afraid to get political.
She was very open about her anti-Fidel Castro stance and fled the island after the 1959 revolution. “But 40 years ago I left Cuba and I don’t want to go back while this [communist] system is still there. I can go back, but I don’t want to go back. Listen, why my mother died, they didn’t give me permission to go back for her burial. And I couldn’t do anything. It’s because of her that I am doing this—singing and performing—but I couldn’t go back to bury her. But someday maybe I’ll go back. Who knows? Everybody asks me that question. But no, I won’t go. I won’t go. Everybody says everything is fine there, but it isn’t fine, so I’m not going,” she said in a 2002 interview with The Katz Tapes.
She did more than just win Grammy Awards.
The Cuban singer not only received three Grammy Awards, Four Latin Grammy Awards and was named “The Queen of Salsa,” but she also had landmarks and streets named after her. There are stars and street sections with her name in Miami, Costa Rica and Mexico.
In 1994 she received one of the more honorary awards.
Former President Bill Clinton honored her at the White House with the National Endowment for the Arts.
She was in many ways a trendsetter.
Her colorful looks, bold fashion, and towering wigs are one of the many ways Celia was able to really set herself apart. We still remember her for those things til this day.