Thirteen years after her death, Celia Cruz will be honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s award show.
“Each year, the Academy has the distinct privilege of honoring those who have greatly contributed to our industry and cultural heritage, and this year we have a gifted and brilliant group of honorees,” President/CEO of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow said according to The Latin Times. “Their exceptional accomplishments, contributions, and artistry will continue to influence and inspire generations to come.”
Cruz, born in 1925 in Havana, is the undisputed queen of Salsa. She decide to become a singer instead of a teacher when she won a school talent show. Her work with local bands in Cuba, particularly with La Sonora Matancera for 15 years, would not only make her a local hit, but eventually, with international tours and an eventual move to New York in 1961, a global sensation.
She never left behind her Cuban roots in her music. In New York, she used the city to experiment with new styles of her familiar art forms. She was inspired by the Puerto Rican and Dominican musical styles she was exposed to. She was not afraid to bring pieces together and collaborate across boundaries, which is maybe one of the reasons her ascension in the Salsa world is so profound.
“Women are afraid to sing salsa,” Cruz told the New York Times. “I don’t know why. Maybe they thing it’s for men. But I think everybody can sing everything.”
She would eventually expand the reach of the genre with a song that remains one of the most popular salsa songs of all time,“La Vida es un Carnaval”:
Over the course of her career, Cruz recorded over 70 albums, 23 of which were certified gold, while earning three Grammy Awards and four Latin Grammy Awards.
The accolades were a gift, but, fundamentally, Cruz wanted her music to spread joy.
“When people hear me sing, I want them to be happy, happy, happy,” she said in an interview with the Times. “I don’t want them thinking about when there’s not any money, or when there’s fighting at home. My message is always felicidad — happiness.”
For some, she exemplified this in her signature exclamation “Azucar!,” which is Spanish for sugar. The Lifetime Achievement Award is a well-deserved and long-overdue thank you for her work.
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