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Celia Cruz, first Afro Latina to be on a U.S. quarter is remembered


In 2024, the late Celia Cruz would be the first Afro Latina face on a U.S. quarter, a part of the American Girls Quarters sequence that additionally honors suffragettes, civil rights defenders, abolitionists and scientists who modified historical past.

That Cruz is a part of that storied record isn’t any shock to the legions of followers all over the world that acknowledge the lasting legacy of the “Queen of Salsa” as one of many first really world crossover Latin artists.

Cruz, who received a number of Grammy and Latin Grammy awards, obtained the Nationwide Medal of Arts, among the many nation’s highest honors, in 1994. She has a star within the Hollywood Stroll of Fame and one on Miami’s well-known Calle Ocho, and has a college in New York Metropolis named after her.

Celia Cruz throughout a presentation in New York in 1998.Jack Vartoogian / Getty Photos

Twenty years after she died from mind most cancers issues at age 78, Cruz is remembered by these near her as a nurturing buddy who spent hours answering fan letters by hand, who beloved to prepare dinner Cuban meals every year when she wasn’t touring the world, and who was nonetheless humbled and shocked when hundreds of followers attended a live performance she gave at a pageant in Finland, “near the North Pole.”

Noticias Telemundo spoke with Omer Pardillo Cid, her longtime supervisor for nearly 30 years and executor of her property, in addition to with photographer Alexis Rodríguez and stylist Tico Torres. The final two launched themselves to Cruz once they had been dwelling and dealing in London and went on to {photograph} and magnificence her for years, forming a deep friendship.

A crossover hit

Many a long time earlier than Dangerous Bunny, Karol G or JBalvin, Cruz was already conquering crowds along with her Spanish-language songs.

“If anybody has to get credit score for the actual crossover, with out talking the language and with out singing in English, it was Celia Cruz,” Pardillo Cid stated.

Pardillo Cid gave an instance: In 2001, in a nook of Finland near Russia, Cruz participated in a music pageant; she thought nobody would go see her. However then, “there have been 5,000 individuals who didn’t perceive her music, who solely understood the sounds and probably the Latin percussion and all this, and he or she stated, ‘Oh my God! … I am nearly near the North Pole and 5,000 souls have come to see me who don’t know me,’” Pardillo Cid recalled her saying.

There are nonetheless articles on the web about her go to to the Imatra Massive Band pageant and a photograph of her frozen in mid-dance, smiling. A 2002 Finnish newspaper article referred to her as a “dwelling legend of Latin music,” the most costly artist on the pageant — and one of many pageant’s finest moments.

‘Celia was power’

Black and Cuban, Celia felt very proud to be Afro Latina, her executor stated. Pardillo Cid stated Cruz was the primary Black Latina to sing in Spanish on American tv and carry out at Carnegie Corridor, the place artists akin to Billie Vacation, Judy Garland and The Beatles carried out. 

Pardillo Cid stated he nonetheless will get letters from followers saying how proud they’re that “30 or 40 years in the past Celia Cruz already represented us.”

On the “Celia Cruz Endlessly exhibit in Miami’s Tower Theater there’s a reproduction of Cruz’s dressing room and a video loop of her placing on make-up. Not solely does it show what she used on stage, it additionally reveals some objects that she at all times carried along with her: her virgin, a rosary, her start certificates, a photograph of her mom and her champagne glasses.

The Tower Theater Miami shows "Celia Cruz Forever."
The Tower Theater Miami reveals “Celia Cruz Endlessly.”Jose Osuna / Telemundo Information

“Celia had that power that crammed a room, that entered you,” Torres, her photo-shoot stylist, stated. “Celia was power.”

On the time of her loss of life, Cruz had greater than 100 attire. One gown, which she had named El Sol, or The Solar, weighed 42 kilos. “A Mexican designer did it, it’s distinctive,” Pardillo Cid stated, although after she sang in it for 2 hours, “she ended up very drained.” 

The Smithsonian American Artwork Museum has preserved 30% of Cruz’s assortment, about 40 attire, together with a silver one which she wore on the Cuba’s well-known Tropicana cabaret over 70 years in the past. Her executor donated one other 22 to the longer term American Latino Museum, which remains to be within the planning levels.

On the stage Cruz roared to the beat of the bongo, her voice a whirlwind in addition to her hips, arms and the ruffles of her attire that appeared like foam. That’s how she carried out for many years, along with her greater than 100 wigs and her electrical persona. 

When she was in a rush she turned to a specific wig she known as María Auxiliadora, (an expression for the Virgin Mary as a helper) as a result of “she at all times acquired her out of bother.” One other orange wig was auctioned in 2022 for $3,000.

“Pedro [Knight, her husband] and I known as her the Iron Lady as a result of she didn’t even get a chilly. It was unbelievable power. I used to be in my 20s, very drained and sleepy, and he or she was alert, made up and prepared, that was Celia,” stated Pardillo Cid, who began working along with her in New York when he was a young person.

In 1996, Celia Cruz and her husband of greater than 40 years selected him as their supervisor, a job he held till the artist’s loss of life.

Pedro Knight, Omer Pardillo Cid and Celia Cruz.
Pedro Knight, Omer Pardillo Cid and Celia Cruz.Courtesy Omer Pardillo Cid

“It was a continuing tour,” stated the Cuban American who left his native nation when he was a baby. “Folks suppose that this enterprise of ours is a celebration on a regular basis, and no, it’s laborious work with planes, nations and it doesn’t cease,” Pardillo Cid stated.

Being so younger amid all the celebrity might have ended badly, he stated, however Cruz stored him secure.

“She stayed in a collection and one of many necessities [was] that the room subsequent door was mine and he or she advised me: ‘To keep watch over you, to keep watch over you,’” he stated. Cruz, he stated, was very maternal. She at all times carried a cookie or a candy in her purse in case Pardillo Cid, who’s diabetic, had low blood sugar.

“She at all times stated it in her interviews, that I used to be like her white son. It was the best way she described it. For me it’s a nice honor,” he stated.

When she turned in poor health, Pardillo Cid stated, she spoke to him about how she needed him to handle her legacy, which he stated was an unbelievable privilege.

Cruz did not go away the home with out her false eyelashes and lipstick, Pardillo Cid stated. Within the exhibit that honors her is her make-up, her favourite fragrance, Shalimar by Guerlain and her assortment of followers.

Celia Cruz And Tito Puente
Celia Cruz and percussionist Tito Puente in 1987.Frans Schellekens / Redferns

“She at all times walked with a unique fan,” he stated. And she or he at all times carried her figures of the Virgin Mary, particularly that of the Caridad del Cobre, our Girl of Charity, which is Cuba’s patron saint.

In response to Pardillo Cid, she took the figurine from Cuba when she exiled within the Nineteen Sixties and he or she promised she would not return to her native nation till democracy triumphed. It was an oath that turned a actuality when she was not allowed to return to Cuba for the funeral of her mom, Catalina Alfonso, by orders of Cuba’s late communist chief Fidel Castro.

“Simply in case I don’t return, / I’ll take your flag / regretting that my liberated eyes didn’t see you,” Cruz says in her tune about Cuba, “Simply in case I don’t return.”

In response to Pardillo Cid, Cruz used to say her suitcases by no means acquired misplaced as a result of the Virgin Mary figures she carried along with her protected them.

Celia at dwelling

The “Queen of Salsa” cooked a couple of times a yr, in the one month when she was dwelling from touring. She would invite Pardillo Cid and others from her inside circle to accompany her whereas she ready white rice, black beans and picadillo, the normal Cuban dish with floor beef, to which she added french fries.

Photos, postcards and other personal items of Celia Cruz at the 'Celia Cruz Forever' exhibition in Miami.
Photographs, postcards and different private gadgets of Celia Cruz on the ‘Celia Cruz Endlessly’ exhibition in Miami.Anagilmara Vílchez / Telemundo Information

“She made us come to the home early to see how she chopped the onion, how she did every part. It was fairly a course of to have the ability to make that dish, but it surely turned out wonderful,” he stated.

In personal, Celia Cruz modified her excessive heels for tennis footwear. “She would purchase a pair of tennis footwear in all colours as a result of she favored that mannequin,” the executor stated. She beloved to buy groceries; she wearing black with glasses and furry coats to go unnoticed.”

At dwelling, he stated, she might spend from breakfast to dinner writing out postcards letters and pictures, replying to buddies and followers.

“If you say Celia, you say that — humble. For us or for a lot of, Celia was the sunshine,” Torres stated.

Sooner or later she stopped strolling on a purple carpet to speak to somebody a few cleaning soap opera: “They usually begin speaking concerning the cleaning soap opera as in the event that they had been two neighbors,” Alexis Rodríguez, the photographer, stated. 

Celia Cruz in the library at her home.
Celia Cruz within the library at her dwelling.Courtesy Omer Pardillo Cid


Celia Cruz by no means stopped, not even when she acquired sick. “I believe she by no means anticipated it — she hugged Pedro and me crying,” Pardillo Cid stated, talking of when she acquired her most cancers prognosis. She needed to die onstage, he stated, and he or she confronted her sickness, which she by no means named, “with unbelievable braveness.”

“We’d go to the radiation within the morning at a hospital in New York Metropolis and within the afternoon we’d return to the studio to file,” he stated. Per week earlier than she died, she was planning a photograph shoot.

Final time Rodríguez and Torres noticed her was in Paris. They needed to {photograph} her in entrance of the Eiffel Tower however, to keep away from the group, they went to a park. “After we began there was nobody, not a single individual. After we completed we had like 40, 50, ready to speak to her. It was unbelievable, very good,” they are saying. 

They knew she was sick, however “she was such a particular individual, so distinctive, that we did every part attainable not to consider any of that,” Torres stated.

“She remained Celia till the top. She by no means let the illness change her,” Rodríguez stated.

Celia Cruz holds her award for Best Salsa Album backstage at
Celia Cruz on the forty fifth Grammy Awards in 2003.NY Every day Information through Getty Photos

A life marked by exile, and a parting present

Exile marked Cruz’s life, and it’s a recurring theme in her songs: “I believed that at any second / I used to be going to return to your soil/however time is passing/and your solar retains crying,” she sang.

Even when the island turns into a free, democratic nation, Cruz’s physique won’t be returning to Cuba, in response to Pardillo Cid. “Her physique would stay the place she is, in New York, within the place the place she selected to be eternally,” he stated.

The dress and photograph from the series "I am from Cuba the Voice, Guantanamera!" exhibited at the Tower Theater in Miami.
The gown and {photograph} from the sequence “I’m from Cuba the Voice, Guantanamera!” exhibited on the Tower Theater in Miami.Anagilmara Vílchez / Telemundo Information

In the meantime, in Miami’s Little Havana, subsequent to a park the place persons are enjoying dominoes, Rodríguez will get excited. As a baby, he grew up just a few blocks from the Tower Theater the place his mom would take him to observe matinees. Now, the picture that he took of Celia Cruz on a day nearly 30 years in the past is on show there.

“Right here is the exhibition of Celia Endlessly, on this theater, the place I went and was impressed by watching [Federico] Fellini’s movies,” Rodríguez stated. “Now I’m again there, with our picture on the Tower Theater, and we’re within the large display, within the theater the place I used to be going to observe all these films, how loopy is that?”

That, he stated, was Celia’s final present.

An earlier model of this story was first printed in Noticias Telemundo.

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