Black History Month: Celebrating Afro-Latina Celia Cruz

It's Black history month, so what better time to highlight some of the Afro-Latinas who have made our world a better place? We'll be highlighting who make a difference in our lives and have represented their African and Latino heritage with pride and love.

First up is the legendary Celia Cruz! This cubana got her start in a working class neighborhood in Havana, Cuba as one of 14 children and started singing on the radio when she was still just a teenager. But in 1950 Celia got her first big break, landing the gig as lead singer for legendary Cuban oquestra Sonora Matancera. But in 1959 she and her husband Pedro Knight refused to return to Cuba after Fidel Castro came in to power and she moved permanently to the United States.

The rest, as they say, is history. Over the years Celia Cruz worked her tail off as the lead singer for some of the best Latin bands in the world, more than earning one of her many nicknames: The Queen of Salsa.


But it was her stint with the Fania All stars that really brought Celia Cruz to a worldwide audience. Though she recorded eight albums with timbalero Tito Puente in the late 60s and early 70s, they weren't as popular as expected. It was her partnership with Johnny Pacheco and Larry Harlow that really introduced the world to Celia as the "Azucar" shouting, crazy-heel wearing, fierce guarachera with a huge voice that we all know and love.

Cruz finally won her first Grammy award in 1990 for Best Tropical Latin Performance for her song with Ray Barretto, "Ritmo en el corazon" (of seven total in her career) and was awarded the National Medal of the Arts just four years later by President Bill Clinton. She passed away in 2003 of a cancerous brain tumor and was mourned by hundreds of thousands of people.

Recognizing her vital contributions to the Latino community and the musical landscape of the United States, the National Museum of American History (administered by the Smithsonian Institution) opened an exhibit called "¡Azúcar!" in 2005, celebrating the life and career of Celia Cruz.

Image via Getty Images