Cuban Musicians and Bands

Overview Musicians
  • Celia Cruz
  • Rubén Blades
  • Buena Vista Social Club
  • Ibrahim Ferrer
  • Benny Moré
  • Los Van Van
  • Compay Segundo
  • Sierra Maestra
  • Tito Puente
  • Juan Luis Guerra

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz was one of the most respected vocalists of Latin music. One of fourteen children, she was born in little Barrio Santa Suarez, Havana. Her first pair of shoes was given to her by a tourist she sang for. Besides spending many nights singing her brothers and sisters to sleep, Cruz sang at school concerts and at community gatherings.

Taken to cabarets and nightclubs by an uncle, she was introduced to the world of professional music. A cousin talked her into entering a young talent show, which she won.

Although her father tried guiding her towards a teaching career, she continued to be tempted by music. In a 1997 interview she said: "I have granted my father’s wish of my being a teacher: through my music I teach generations of people about my culture and the joy one can get out of simply living life. As a singer, I want people to feel their hearts sing and their spirits fly!

After signing up at the Cuban Music Conservatory in 1947, Cruz found her earliest inspiration in the song of Afro-Cuban vocalist Paulina Alvarez. Her first big break came when she was invited by the band La Sonora Matancera in 1950. At that time, the group was considered to be the equivalent of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Cruz continued singing with the group for the next fifteen years, touring the world. She married the band’s trumpeter, Pedro Knight, on July 14, 1962.

After the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, Cruz and Knight refused to return to their country and became American citizens. Although they initially signed on with the Hollywood Palladium orchestra, Cruz and Knight settled in New York. Knight became Cruz’s agent in 1965, a position he had until the 90’s, when he began paying more attention to his work as musical director and conductor of Cruz’s band.

Shortly after leaving Sonora Matancera in 1965, Celia launched her solo career with a band formed by herself along with Tito Puente. Despite having made eight records together, their work together had no commercial success. Cruz and Puente got together again on the stage for a special appearance at the Grammy Awards presentation in 1987.

After signing with Vaya, Fania’s sister label, Cruz recorded with Oscar D'León, Cheo Feliciano and Héctor Rodríguez in the mid and late sixties. Cruz’s first hit after leaving Sonora Matancera came in 1974 when she recorded an album duet, Celia and Johnny, with Johnny Pacheco, trombonist and co owner of Fania. She then began appearing with the Fania All Stars.

Cruz’s popularity reached its highest peak when she appeared in the 1992 movie, "Los Reyes del Mambo". Cruz also appeared on the movie, "La familia Pérez", and sang a version of "Loco de Amor" for the duet with David Byrne in Jonathan Demme’s movie, Totalmente Salvaje (Something Wild).

In 1998, Cruz made Duets, an album in which her songs with Willie Colon, Angela Carrasco, Oscar D'León, Jose Alberto "El Canario" and La India stand out. Cruz continued recording and performing until she was attacked by a brain tumor in 2002. While recovering form the operation which had removed the tumor, she managed to record "Regalo de Alma" in the studios in early 2003. Her operation was only partly successful and Celia Cruz died on July 16, 2003. The death of the "Queen of Salsa" left a great void in the music world. But also a notable curriculum with which to document her reign.