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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 177

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This is the grave of Celia Cruz.

Born in 1925 in Havana, Cuba, Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, she didn’t grow up in a musical family. In fact, her father wanted her to become a teacher and disapproved of her interest in santería, considered devilish. But she showed huge talent at a young age and with the possibility of making a whole lot more as a singer than a teacher, she gave it a try. It worked out pretty well. She began singing for audiences in 1947 and in 1948, made her first recordings. By the 1950s, Cruz was one of the biggest stars on the Cuban music scene, making many albums and movies and touring across Latin America and the United States. When Fidel Castro took power in 1959, Cruz and many of her band members decided to settle in the United States. Castro refused to ever allow any of them into Cuba again, including for the funeral of Cruz’s mother in 1962. Deprived of her fan base in Cuba, she continued to make records in the U.S., but struggled to gain the popularity she had in Latin America. She made many albums with Tito Puente during these years, to marginal success. Her 1974 album with Johnny Pacheco led to much greater success and the creation of Fania All-Stars, a Cuban supergroup that toured the world, except for Cuba. She became a huge international star by the late 1970s and probably the most prominent Cuban exile. She won a Grammy in 1990 and was granted the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton in 1994. Cruz died of cancer in 2003. But as always with musicians, it’s better to listen to their work than just read about it.

Celia Cruz is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York. The grave itself was designed by her husband and manager, the musician Pedro Knight, so that fans could easily find in and look inside.

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