Celia Cruz Tribute: Ten Years After Her Death


On the 10th anniversary of Celia Cruz's death, Morning Mix host Cindy Howes talks to Grammy Award winning producer and authority on Latin music, Aaron Luis Levinson, about the legendary Cuban Superstar.

Celia Cruz has been internationally renowned as the “Queen of Salsa" and also earned 23 gold albums during her musical career.  Celia Cruz’s illustrious career has lead her to be considered the most influential female figure in Cuban music.  Aaron Luis Levinson comments on Cruz’s legacy on Cuban music, “First of all it’s [Cruz being the most influential women in Cuban music] inarguable.  There’s no one that has even approached her stature.  To Cuban music she’s like Michael Jackson, she’s just an iconic figure.”  Levinson also commented on Celia Cruz’s eccentric live performances, “Part of that [her status in Cuban music] comes from her titanic ability to deliver songs, she was just a superior artist.”


Celia Cruz’s musical career began in 1950.  Cruz fronted a Cuban orchestra, the Sonora Matancera.  Cindy and Aaron discuss how Cruz’s style of singing and vocal delivery was affected by her time with Sonora Matancera.  Levinson commented on Sonora Matancera’s affect on Cruz.  “It’s a huge difference, because what you have to understand is when you’re a big band singer you have an enormous musical force behind you.  So if you’re not going to be overpowered and swept to the side by this tsunami of Cubanism, you’re going to have to hold your own.  And she was such a powerhouse, both as far as her ability to galvanize and audience in concert but also in the recorded medium her voice just cut through things, an absolute straight razor of a voice.  She really started an extreme level of artistry.”


Celia Cruz moved to the US after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.  After leaving Cuba, Cruz collaborated with the “King of Latin Music,” Tito Puente.  The collaboration between the two exceeded all expectations.  Levinson comments on the work by Cruz and Puente, “ It was truly one of the great collaborations in the history of twentieth century music of any kind.”  Levinson also compared the “level of excellence” created by the Cruz and Puente collaboration to be on the same level of the Bob Dylan and The Band.  Levinson also commented on how Cruz brought both Cuban and Latin music to the forefront of American music, “Not only did she play a huge part in bringing Cuban music to America, she really embraced Latin music in its totality.  I would agree that she’s probably the most important person in bringing Cuban music to the rest of the world.  She was also an unimpeachable ambassador for bringing Latin music in a Pan-American sense to the world."


Even on the tenth anniversary of Celia Cruz’s death, her influence on Cuban and Latin music is still seen today.  Needless to say when Cruz passed away it was a detrimental hit to the music industry.  Levinson commented on the impact of Cruz’s passing a decade ago, “To many people it was like Kennedy dying, it was the end of an era, not just a person passing away.  It was an entire generational full stop.”


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