¡Azúcar! The Life and Music of Celia Cruz Celia Cruz Selector  
HBWWLM Her Life
 
Her Life
Her Music
Her Dressing Room
 
Mother Cuba
 
 
Birth
   

Celia Cruz was born Ursula Hilaria Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso on October 21, 1925, in the diverse working-class neighborhood of Santos Suárez in Havana, Cuba. She was the second of four children. Her father, Simón Cruz, was a stoker at the railroads and her mother, Catalina Alfonso (Ollita), took care of an extended family of fourteen.

Music played an important part in Cruz’s life from her early childhood. Her grandmother Dolores told her that she could sing before she could talk. Her grandmother also joked that Celia would always work at night.



 
Early Years
 

Cuba has always been an important musical landscape. Growing up in the 1930s, Celia Cruz was exposed to a variety of musical genres that greatly influenced her career. She listened to Paulina Alvarez, Fernando Collazo, Abelardo Barroso, Pablo Quevedo, Arsenio Rodríguez, and Arcaño y sus Maravillas, among others.

Cruz’s work in radio brought her in contact with many powerful and influential producers and musicians. During the 1940s she met choreographer and producer Roderico Neyra (Rodney), who hired her for the famed musical Sun Sun Ba Baé . She joined the female dance group Las Mulatas del Fuego as their singer and traveled throughout Latin America.


   
 
Radio In Cuba
 

For many musicians in the Cuba of the 1940s and 1950s, radio was the main avenue to a successful musical career. Cadena Mil Diez, CMQ, Radio Cadena Suaritos, Radio Progreso, Radio Cadena Azul, and other stations promoted Cuban music and musicians. These stations had contests and live shows for aspiring as well as professional talent.

Celia Cruz won her first contest singing the tango “Nostalgia” at Radio García Serra in the amateur show The Tea Hour, accompanied by a pair of claves —a percussion instrument consisting of two wooden sticks struck against each other. It was a tribute to the great Cuban singer she admired, Paulina Alvarez. People heard Cruz’s powerful voice before they ever saw her. That signature voice would propel her into an explosive musical career.

 

 
 
 
 
National Museum of American History
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