In Atlanta and throughout U.S., legacy of ‘Queen of Salsa’ as sturdy as ever

As Cruz’s variety of data offered approached after which crossed the ten million mark, the accolades multiplied. There have been the Grammy Awards, together with a lifetime achievement award. There was the Smithsonian exhibit, the star on the Hollywood Stroll of Fame, the bestowment of the Nationwide Medal of Arts by President Invoice Clinton. Later this yr, a joyous depiction of Cruz will grace a particular version of the U.S. quarter.

When Becquer-Pritchett thinks of her aunt, essentially the most vivid reminiscence is how she made folks really feel – particularly different members of the Afro-Latino neighborhood, which has lengthy grappled with a scarcity of illustration and visibility.

“For our neighborhood, the Afro-Latino neighborhood, she gave them a way of pleasure,” Becquer-Pritchett mentioned. “She was type of just like the ambassador for all Latino folks of shade … There was no substitute for Celia.”

Credit score: Jenni Girtman

Credit score: Jenni Girtman

Becquer-Pritchett credit the energy of Cruz’s connection together with her viewers to her unwavering embrace of her roots – together with the African rhythms that permeated her music since her earliest days as a performer in Havana, the place she made historical past as the primary Black lead feminine singer of one in all Cuba’s hottest orchestras, La Sonora Matancera. Though she wound up residing most of her life within the U.S. and, based on Becquer-Pritchett, spoke significantly better English than she let on, her work was at all times Spanish-only.

“She stood together with her market, which was offering music for her folks,” Becquer-Pritchett mentioned.

Nonetheless, the power and charisma of Cruz’s expertise transcended the Hispanic or Spanish-speaking neighborhood. Non-Latin Black artists who’ve mentioned they had been influenced by Cruz embrace the poet Maya Angelou. Legendary singer Patti LaBelle collaborated with Cruz and in addition sang at her funeral, in 2003.

Though Cruz’s deliciously catchy cry of “azúcar” (’sugar’), was born out of an interplay with a Miami waiter, many have discovered significance in its connection to the historical past of Black folks in Cuba, who had been introduced as slaves to the island to work its sugar fields.

References to Cruz’s Black pleasure may be discovered all through her oeuvre. One among her final hit songs, launched in 2001 simply weeks earlier than her 76th birthday, was known as “La Negra Tiene Tumbao,” which roughly interprets to “The Black Woman’s Obtained Model.”

Cruz because the blueprint

Latin music is in a growth of mainstream recognition, each all over the world and within the U.S.

Puerto Rican star Dangerous Bunny has change into a fixture among the many prime of streaming charts with music that makes no concessions to English-language pop audiences. In 2023, artists like Shakira, Karol G, Peso Pluma and Grupo Frontera all joined Dangerous Bunny in scoring prime 10 hits in Spanish on the U.S.’ Billboard Sizzling 100.

It’s troublesome to suppose Latin music may develop as commercially imposing because it has within the U.S. with out the path blazed by Cruz and others in many years previous, who introduced rhythms’ like salsa’s from the fringes to the fore.

Latin music’s present mass enchantment can also be usually indebted to the African diaspora, given the affect of rap and reggaeton, a music style of Afro-Panamanian roots, in a lot of right this moment’s hit Spanish-language music.

Reflecting these broader cultural modifications across the nation, Latin music has progressively carved out a spot for itself in Atlanta nightlife. In late 2016, a bunch of pals created a month-to-month dance occasion, La Choloteca, that may go on to change into a preferred and vibrant gathering spot for the metro space’s Hispanic.

Credit score: Ben Grey

Credit score: Ben Grey

A want to showcase the vary and variety of Latin music was additionally a purpose behind Oye Fest. Since launching in 2018, the yearly pageant has strived to provide a platform to artists that hail from Atlanta’s native Hispanic neighborhood.

“Our function is to maintain offering these alternatives for folks to embrace their heritage,” mentioned Randall Ruiz, the pageant’s co-founder, who famous that Cruz served because the “blueprint” for most of the Latin artists widespread right this moment.

Josephine Figueroa, a co-founder of La Choloteca, mentioned an essential element of Cruz’s legacy is that she made Latin music audiences fall in love with a proudly Afro-Cuban lady “at a time when racial biases had been nonetheless very actual in Latin America.”

For Hispanic immigrants within the U.S., she additionally introduced pleasure and a way of hope “that sweetened the bitter journey of migration,” Figueroa mentioned.

“I actually consider that her closing albums had been odes to the numerous migrant households coming to the U.S. and constructing new lives and new futures,” she added.

Credit score: Jenni Girtman

Credit score: Jenni Girtman

ABOUT THIS SERIES

The AJC’s Black Historical past Month collection focuses on the function of African Individuals and the Arts and the overwhelming affect it has had on American tradition. These day by day choices seem all through the paper. Extra subscriber exclusives on the African American folks, locations and organizations which have modified the world can be found at ajc.com/information/atlanta-black-history

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