“La Guarachera de Cuba” helped define the sound of the salsa music we know today, influencing everyone from Gloria Estefan to Ivy Queen and Camila Cabello. Twenty years after her passing, she remains an icon.
Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, known internationally as Celia Cruz, has been selected to appear on the US quarter. This makes the Havana-born icon the first Afro Latina to receive the distinction.
The undisputed Queen of Salsa died in 2003 at the age of 77 and was selected by the United States Mint to be one of the five honorees in the 2024 American Women Quarters Program, a four-year initiative that honors the achievements and services of American women. The other women chosen were Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to serve in Congress; Zitkala-a, also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, a writer, songwriter, educator, and political activist for the rights of Native Americans; Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War-era surgeon, women’s rights advocate and abolitionist; and Pauli Murray, a poet, writer, activist, lawyer and Episcopal priest, and a strong advocate for civil rights. The designs for the 2024 American Women Quarters are expected to be released in mid-2023.
A Star Is Born
Born in 1925 in Havana, Cuba, Cruz studied to be a teacher, but her love of music proved too strong. In 1950 she became the lead singer for the country’s most popular orchestra, La Sonora Matancera, and there was no turning back.
After the Cuban Revolution, the avowed anti-Communist immigrated to the US in 1961, vowing not to return to her beloved land until it was free.
In the US, she helped define the sound of the salsa music we know today with hits like “Químbara,” with the late, great Puerto Rican bandleader Tito Puente, as well as “Bemba Colorá,” “La vida es un carnaval,” and “La negra tiene tumbao,” which spanned a career of more than 60 years, 80 albums, 23 gold records, and five Grammy Awards. She also received the president’s National Medal of Arts, and a posthumous Grammy for Lifetime Achievement.
Despite the many honors and accolades, Celia, who was also known as “La Guarachera de Cuba,” remained humble and unimpressed by her fame.
“Celia Cruz, to me, was a great inspiration, as the humble person that she was, and such an amazing performer on stage,” says singer Gloria Estefan, her compatriot. “She was the kindest person I knew.” Cuban American singer Camila Cabello honored her in her latest album, “Familia,” with a song simply titled “Celia.”
“In every interview I’ve ever done, the person who I always refer to as my biggest influence is Celia Cruz,” says Puerto Rican “Queen of Reggaeton” Ivy Queen. “For me, Celia had a completely unique, distinct voice, and her look was spectacular.”
With her colorful outfits and her deep, rich, alto voice, “Celia stepped on stage, and it [was] like the world stood still,” continues Estefan. “She was a huge influence, both as a human and musician.”
As Celia would say, “¡Azúcar!”