Celia Cruz, Hispanic Heritage Month Honoree

One of a Series…
By Allan Jamail

September 18, 2023 ~ Hispanic Heritage Month begins annually from September 15 thru October 15. For the past several years I’ve had the honor of bringing back the memories of a famous person of Hispanic heritage. This week my honoree is Cuban-born Celia Cruz.

Celia Cruz was born October 21, 1925, and died July 16, 2003 at the age of 77, with a brain tumor. She was a Cuban singer and one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Cruz rose to fame in Cuba during the 1950s as a singer of guarachas, earning the nickname “La Guarachera de Cuba.” In the following decades, she became known internationally as the “Queen of Salsa” due to her contributions to Latin music. She had sold over 10 million copies, making her one of the best-selling Latin music artists.

She left Cuba after the 1959 revolution and often said she would love to return — when Castro no longer was in power. In the end, Castro outlived Cruz.

According to Billboard magazine, Celia Cruz was “indisputably the best known and most influential figure in the history of Cuban and Latin music.”

“The Queen of Salsa” was a dynamic performer in every sense. With her powerful voice and flamboyant stage shows, Cruz helped bring salsa music to a broad audience. In the 1950s, Cruz became famous with the legendary Afro-Cuban group La Sonora Matancera. Her musical partnership with fellow salsa star and “Mambo King” Tito Puente garnered some the biggest successes in her career.

Cruz recorded more than 70 albums over six decades and had more than a dozen Grammy nominations. She won best salsa album for “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” at the Latin Grammy Awards, and won the same award more than once. Among her best-known recordings are “Yerberito Moreno” and “Que le Den Candela.”

In 1987, she was honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and several years later, the city of Miami gave Calle Ocho, the main street of its Cuban community, the honorary name of Celia Cruz Way. She was also inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 1999. In the same year, she was presented with the ASCAP Latin Heritage Award, becoming the first recipient of the accolade. She was also recognized with a star on Boulevard Amador Bendayán in Caracas, Venezuela, and a figure in the Hollywood Wax Museum.

In 2003, a music school was opened in the Bronx, named the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music. On June 4, 2004, the heavily Cuban-American community of Union City, New Jersey heralded its annual Cuban Day Parade by dedicating its new Celia Cruz Park (also known as Celia Cruz Plaza), which features a sidewalk star in her honor.

On June 2, 2021, the City of New York honored Celia Cruz by co-naming the intersection of Reservoir Avenue and East 195th Street “Celia Cruz Way” near the high school that is named in her honor.

Through a formidable work ethic, Cruz rose to the very top in her genre. In February 2004, her last album, Regalo del Alma, she won a posthumous award at the Premios Lo Nuestro for best salsa release of the year. It was announced in December 2005 that a musical called ¡Azúcar! would open in Tenerife before touring the world. The name comes from Cruz’s well-known catch phrase of “¡Azúcar!” (“Sugar!”).

Cruz also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton honored her with an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

To learn more about Celia Cruz visit: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz

Looking Back Locally
Allan Jamail

As we look around us today, we can see how much the Hispanic Community has grown and contributed all over the nation and especially so in the communities of Jacinto City, Galena Park, Channelview, Sheldon, Cloverleaf and the entire North Channel area.

As a teenager I can remember both in my hometown of Galena Park and nearby Jacinto City there were only about six Hispanic families. Many of them were families of some of my best friends and still are.

In the 1980s, as Mayor of Jacinto City, I appointed Rachel Nunez as the city’s first Hispanic female official in our city government. I saw the need for the fast growing Hispanic Community to be able to have better communications with the city. I asked her if she would volunteer to serve as a liaison to the Hispanics, and she eagerly accepted my offer. She and I planned and had many weekend meetings at city hall with the city’s Hispanics. She explained to them the laws and policies of our city, which paved the way for them to be able to become more productive citizens.

When I appointed Rachel, I gave her the title “Mayor’s Liaison to the Hispanic Community.” She was very happy and excited to have the volunteer position. She treasured her gold badge with her name on it with her official identification card, up until her death in January 2013. In 2000, Rachel became the city’s first female Hispanic to serve as a council member, and also as mayor in 2011.