Celia Cruz was born on October 21st, 1924 in Havana, Cuba to Catalina Alfonso and Simon Cruz. Celia was raised in a poor neighborhood named "Suarez" where she was introduced to and influenced by Cuba's rich and diverse musical climate. Early on, it was clear that Celia had talent. As a teenager she would participate in contests but her father didn't like the idea of her being a singer. Celia's father wanted Celia to stay in school and become a teacher. Celia although very obedient of her father, decided to follow her dream after one of her teachers told her that with her talent she could someday make in one day what a teacher makes in a year.
Celia's dream became reality when in 1950 she began singing with an already renowned Cuban orchestra "Sonora Matancera". Although already being a well-established orchestra, Celia helped the group excel and take their music to new heights. Celia was at this time known as "La Guarachera de Cuba", "The Live Spirit of Cuba". Sonora Matancera traveled all over Latin America, internationalizing their music.
As Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, everyone who was able to leave, fled the country. Sonora Matancera, as a group, left to the United States in 1960, hoping to continue where they left off. Being one of the first already established orchestras to move to the U.S. it wasn't that difficult to get into the groove right away, especially being in New York City where there was a lot of Hispanic immigration at the time. While in the group Celia become romantically involved with one of the groups trumpet players, Pedro Knight. The two were married in 1962. Celia stayed with the group until 1965 and began her solo career. By going solo, Celia's fame skyrocketed. Celia would put on larger-than-life performances during which she would wear wigs and vibrant dresses and do a call-and-response part with the audience at her shows. Celia was admired for her unique style.
Throughout her career in New York City, she worked with many respected names in Latin music as well as New York City including Tito Puente and Dominican "godfather" of salsa, Johnny Pacheco. She also worked with many American artists such as Aretha Franklin and Luciano Pavarotti. Celia also branched out into different genres including hip hop and dance; making a very popular Spanish cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and using almost all hip hop sounds in one of her latest and most popular songs, "La Negra Tiene Tumbao".
Celia Cruz died on July 16th, 2003 due to a brain tumor. A public memorial was held in Miami, she was then flown back to New York and was carried through 5th Avenue, where thousands of fans lined up and said goodbye. Celia Cruz helped shape what is now Salsa and was a very big part of Hispanic culture in New York City; she was a product of Hispanic-American opportunity and will forever be one of the most legendary names in Salsa history.
Tito Puente is a very big name in New York City history. He was one of the first people to imprint Salsa music onto the city of New York. He was a pioneer in Latin music, fusing styles together to make new sounds and mixing Latin music with American Music that originated in New York. Tito Puente is known universally as the Godfather of Salsa and Latin Jazz.
Ernesto Antonio Puente Jr. was born in Harlem, New York on April 20th, 1923. He began taking piano lessons at the age of six and began learning dance at a young age. He and his sister were part of an artistic group called "Stars of the Future". He was a very good dancer and had promise, but a bicycle accident ended his dreams of becoming a dancer. Tito loved the arts, so he decided to interest himself in music. He began learning how to conduct and