¡Azúcar! The Life and Music of Celia Cruz Celia Cruz Selector  
Her Life
Her Music
Her Dressing Room
The Sonora Matancera
The Sonora Matancera

What later became the legendary orchestra Sonora Matancera was founded in 1924 by Valentín Cané in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Rogelio Martínez became its director during the 1930s and his vision led to a band that hosted over sixty different singers throughout its history. Many singers came from other Latin American countries, making the orchestra an international success. The Sonora Matancera performed in several clubs and live radio programs at a time when live dance music was an integral part of Cuban daily life.

In 1950 Rodney introduced Cruz to Rogelio Martínez after Puerto Rican singer Myrta Silva left the Sonora Matancera. The relationship became one of the most creative in Latin music history. With the Sonora Matancera, Cruz performed many popular genres of Cuban music, such as boleros, sones, cha-chas, danzones, and guarachas. Her first recording with the orchestra was in 1950, the guaracha “Cao, cao maní picao,” for which she became known as the Guarachera de Cuba. She performed in many Latin American countries, staying with the band until 1965 and recording 185 songs.

Meeting Pedro

Pedro Knight joined the Sonora Matancera as second trumpet in 1944. Celia Cruz met Knight in 1950 when she joined the orchestra. They became friends and eventually fell in love, marrying in Connecticut in 1962. Knight left the band in the late 1960s to become Cruz’s manager.

Havana Nights - The Tropicana

By the 1950s, Havana was internationally famous for its booming night life, filled with clubs and theaters. Cuban music had become influential worldwide, especially in the United States . Among the great cabarets, the Tropicana epitomized the spectacle and glamour characteristic of Cuban aesthetics of the 1950s. The nonstop entertainment included buxom dancers, outrageously costumed entertainers, and Afro-Cuban–themed musical reviews by renowned choreographer Rodney. Performing at the Tropicana meant you had arrived, and for Cuban entertainers it also brought increased popularity.

Celia Cruz at the Tropicana

For Cuban performers, the Tropicana was an important venue for showcasing one's talent. Celia Cruz was invited to perform there several times during the 1950s, participating in such great musicals as Mayombe, Tambó, Carnaval carioca, and Canto a Oriente. This was the perfect place for Cruz to develop her “bigger-than-life” sense of style and aesthetics. It was also another site where she launched herself as an independent singer, away from the Sonora Matancera.

National Museum of American History
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