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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Celia Cruz's Talent, Drive & Personality Crowned Her The "Queen of Salsa"

Celia Cruz

Photo: Frederick Brown via Getty Images

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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Celia Cruz's Talent, Drive & Personality Crowned Her The "Queen of Salsa"

The latest edition of Black Sounds Beautiful doubles as a lesson in royal history—as it explores the career of Celia Cruz, the "Queen Of Salsa"

GRAMMYs/Sep 28, 2021 - 01:38 am

When the term music royalty is thrown around, most people think of the King of Rock and Roll (Elvis Presley), the King of Pop (Michael Jackson) or Queen Bey (Beyoncé). Still, there's a seat at the royal table labeled "Queen of Salsa", and it's reserved for the one and only Celia Cruz.

With a career spanning over half a century, Cruz was known for her electrifying personality and unrivaled work ethic, releasing 23 certified Gold albums overall. That special blend of personality and production only multiplied when placed inside a genre as appropriate as salsa.

Watch the latest episode of Black Sounds Beautiful below to learn how the Queen of Salsa claimed her throne.

Her hard work didn't go unnoticed, as she earned 14 GRAMMY nominations, three GRAMMY wins and four Latin GRAMMY wins.

Check down below to learn about even more incredible stories of Black artistry from GRAMMY.com's Black Sounds Beautiful series.

Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Willie Colon & More Salsa Legends Get Special Vinyl Reissues

Black Sounds Beautiful: Five Years After His Death, Prince’s Genius Remains Uncontainable
Black Sounds Beautiful: Prince

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Black Sounds Beautiful: Five Years After His Death, Prince’s Genius Remains Uncontainable

In the latest episode of Black Sounds Beautiful, explore Prince Rogers Nelson’s GRAMMYs legacy and consider how—five years after his passing—we’ve only scratched the surface of his bottomless talent

GRAMMYs/Jun 19, 2021 - 02:05 am

Some artists celebrate Black genius pointedly through their lyrics and public statements. Others like Prince, simply live it by being exceptional.

Not that the Purple One, who passed away in 2016, didn’t acknowledge race. In the midst of acrimony with a major record label, he scrawled “SLAVE” on his face. He called his name change to the infamous “Love Symbol” “the first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipation.”

In the end, though, he knew his inimitable writing, production work and guitar playing would be his true statement to the world. attacking others for their immutable characteristics wasn’t the answer. 

“Nothing more ugly in the whole wide world than INTOLERANCE (between) Black, white, red, yellow, boy or girl,” he wrote in his personal archives. (He punctuated it with an extra “INTOLERANCE” at the end.)

In the latest episode of Black Sounds Beautiful, take a brief tour through Prince’s astonishing history as a GRAMMY winner and nominee. Without cheating, try to guess how many wins and nominations he earned before pressing play.

Then, when you’re done, chase it with one of those recent boxed sets of 1999 or Sign o’ the Times. Or, if you’re pressed for time, peep his outrageous, spotlight-stealing guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” (Seriously, you’ll be glad you did.)

Black Sounds Beautiful: How Beyoncé Has Empowered The Black Community Across Her Music And Art

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Marc Anthony Salutes Celia Cruz

GRAMMY winner says the legacy of the Queen of Salsa will continue to impact generations to come

GRAMMYs/Oct 7, 2016 - 09:05 pm

("GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends" — a special all-star concert honoring The Recording Academy's 2016 Special Merit Awards recipients — will air Oct. 14 from 9–11:30 p.m. on PBS. Celia Cruz, who received a 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy, will be among the artists saluted.)

I remember listening to Celia Cruz's music blasting out of the windows in my neighborhood in East Harlem, New York, long before I started doing music professionally. By that time she was one of the greatest living legends of our time.  

My first interaction with Celia as a salsa singer was when I recorded my first album, Otra Nota. We were part of the same record label. From the moment we met, she welcomed me with open arms and became my professional godmother, always supportive and so protective of me.

I'll never forget the first time I was able to share the stage with her. I was so nervous! At that time I did not have a lot of experience performing on the big stages of the world, and yet there I was next to her and in the company of all of these great musicians. That night she embraced me in a very special way — the way only those who had the good fortune of being close to her presence could experience.

Her mastery of voice and song and her powerful transformation onstage was one of her many qualities. She possessed a voice like no other and an undeniable way of conducting herself in front of her audience and her fellow musicians. A lady in a male-dominated world who handled her career with consistency, discipline and admirable class.  

She was so into details. Not even her intense work schedule and touring demands around the world would let her forget her friends and family's birthdays, and her Christmas cards with her personal touch were a yearly event. We all wondered how in the world this woman, with so many responsibilities as a worldwide performer and wife, found the time to pause and devote personal attention to so many of us. And indeed she did. She also had a great sense of humor.  

Celia took her responsibility on the stage very seriously. It was amazing to see her sitting backstage quietly and serenely before it was her time to go on. From the instant that orchestra played the first chord she became this gigantic presence. She never, ever disappointed her audience.

Her legacy is so vast there is not enough space on this page, but the fact remains that her contribution to music will continue to have an impact worldwide for generations to come.

(A two-time GRAMMY winner and five-time Latin GRAMMY winner, Marc Anthony will be honored as the 2016 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year on Nov. 16. In 2003 Anthony co-hosted “¡Celia Cruz: Azúcar!,” an all-star tribute to Cruz featuring performances by Anthony, Gloria Estefan, José Feliciano, Paulina Rubio, and Arturo Sandoval, among others.)


Black Sounds Beautiful: How Whitney Houston’s Groundbreaking Legacy Has Endured
Whitney Houston

Photo: Steve Granitz

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Black Sounds Beautiful: How Whitney Houston’s Groundbreaking Legacy Has Endured

For the 10th anniversary of Whitney Houston’s passing, GRAMMY.com honors the late superstar by exploring the many ways her voice and her music continue to impact artists across genres and generations

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2022 - 01:06 pm

With more than 200 million records sold worldwide, 11 No. 1 singles and six GRAMMYs, Whitney Houston was undoubtedly one of music's biggest superstars — and even in the years without her, her influence continues to sparkle.

Feb. 11 marks 10 years since Houston's untimely death at the age of 48. Though her time was cut short, the music she made and the boundaries she broke during her 27-year career keep her legacy alive. 

One of the best-selling solo artists of all time, Houston earned the moniker of "The Voice" during her heyday thanks to her powerful, gospel-rooted singing chops. Her mentor, former Arista Records President and CEO Clive Davis, said that her distinctive talent was "stunning," while Tony Bennett called her "the greatest singer I've ever heard."

She was able to cross the confines of genre during her career, releasing pop, R&B and dance-tinged tunes, and worked with various acts like Stevie Wonder, George Michael, Mariah Carey, Missy Elliott, and Luciano Pavarotti. Without her contributions to the reshaping and hybridization of modern popular music, contemporary Black pop singers — from Janet Jackson to Lizzo to Normani — may have continued to be placed in boxes based on their race and not their music.

"So many of my life's memories are attached to a Whitney Houston song," Beyoncé said in a statement in 2012 after Houston's passing. "She is our queen and she opened doors and provided a blueprint for all of us." 

Ten years after Whitney Houston's death, GRAMMY.com is exploring how the superstar's legacy continues to endure with posthumous singles and awards, tributes from powerhouse vocalists and more.

Her Accolades

With two posthumously released greatest hits compilation albums and a wave of honors after Whitney's death, the star's achievements have been a major part of her enduring legacy.

I Will Always Love You: The Best of Whitney Houston won "Best Outstanding Album" at the NAACP Image Awards in 2013, and 2014's Her Greatest Performances debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. That year also saw Houston’s legacy further cemented with induction into three echelons of excellence: her eponymous debut album was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame, and she was posthumously added to both the New Jersey Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame.

In 2020, Whitney was inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which her family accepted in her honor. "I'm proud of who she was," her mother, gospel legend Cissy Houston, said. "She always wanted to be something — she worked hard at it, too."

Houston's "I Will Always Love You" has continued serving up milestones as well: In 2020, it surpassed 1 billion views on YouTube, making Whitney the first solo artist from the 1990s to have a music video achieve that feat. Her spine-tingling cover of Dolly Parton's country hit was inducted into the GRAMMYs Hall of Fame that same year. 

The timeless ballad was also certified diamond by the RIAA in 2022, helping Houston become the third female artist in history to have a diamond single and a diamond album. (She actually has three of the latter: The Bodyguard soundtrack, 1985's Whitney Houston and 1987's Whitney.) 

Her Gift, Regifted

Whitney Houston's inimitable voice has been sampled across various genres long before her passing in songs from Salt-N-Pepa, Beyoncé, and French Montana. In the past decade, countless artists have paid tribute to her through samples, proving that her contributions will always be integral.

Drake features a sample of "I Have Nothing" for his song "Tuscan Leather," found on his 2013 album Nothing Was The Same. The following year, Natalie La Rose teamed up with Jeremih for her breakthrough hit "Somebody," a catchy electro-R&B take on Houston's classic "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" that landed at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2015. Bebe Rexha also utilized that song for "The Way I Are (Dance With Somebody)," the lead single from her 2017 EP All Your Fault: Pt. 2.

The dance world has shown Whitney lots of love over the last 10 years. English DJ Duke Dumont interpolated "My Love Is Your Love" for his Jax Jones-accompanied song, "I Got U" in 2014. In 2021, British EDM group Clean Bandit created a dance remix of Houston's "How Will I Know," which peaked at No. 23 on Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Chart.

Tropical house producer Kygo provided arguably the most popular Whitney Houston sample in the past decade, 2019's "Higher Love." The song — which features Whitney's 1990 cover of Steve Winwood's GRAMMY-winning hit of the same name — became a smash, hitting No. 1 on Billboard's Dance Clubs Songs chart and becoming Whitney's highest-charting posthumous single. 

Her Televised Tributes

As to expect with televised singing competitions, many undiscovered talents try their hand at songs that show their range. What better way to do that than by tackling a tune made popular by one of the most incomparable voices of all time?

X Factor contestant Keira Weathers literally and figuratively put her competitors to shame with her spirited performance of "I Will Always Love You" in 2015. On America's Got Talent, 2017 semi-finalist Johnny Manuel beautifully sang "I Have Nothing" early on in his season. In 2021, The Voice Season 21 runner-up Wendy Moten delivered pitch-perfect versions of "How Will I Know" and "I Will Always Love You."

Whitney has served as a posthumous voice for the LGBTQ+ community as well. The Season 9 finale of RuPaul's Drag Race in 2017 showcased drag queens "lip-syncing for their lives" to "So Emotional" and "It's Not Right (But It's Okay)." The Emmy-winning series Pose included several Houston hits throughout its three-season run, even reminding fans of her awe-inspiring rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in its Season 2 finale.

Her Influence

Contemporary singers who have publicly acknowledged the impact Whitney Houston had on their artistry include Adele, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Leona Lewis — but they're certainly not alone in sharing that influence.

Several musicians have created memorable moments while paying tribute to Houston. Jennifer Hudson — who said the late star is "the ultimate artist that influenced [her] the most" — led the commemorative tribute at the 2012 GRAMMY Awards, which took place just one day after Whitney's passing. 

In 2016, Ariana Grande nailed a snippet of "I Will Always Love You" in a sketch during her Saturday Night Live hosting stint. A year later, Christina Aguilera performed a medley of hits from "The Bodyguard" during the 2017 American Music Awards. One year after that, Jessie J went viral with a cover of "I Have Nothing," which she sang on the Chinese competition show, "Singer." 

The Houston homages have continued in 2022: Kelly Clarkson performed "Saving All My Love For You" during a "Kellyoke" segment on her daytime talk show, and Katy Perry added a cover of "Greatest Love Of All" to the set list for her newly minted Las Vegas residency, PLAY.

Brandy — whose Whitney influence may be the most personal of anyone in the business — delivered the "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the AFC Championship in January, channeling the white jumpsuit Houston wore at the 1991 Super Bowl, where she performed her now-iconic rendition of the National Anthem.  

The R&B singer has been open about Houston's influence on her life and career for decades. 

Whitney and Brandy's relationship dates back to the 1990s, when they served as co-stars in ABC's made-for-TV version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Cinderella" in 1997. 

"If it wasn't for Whitney Houston, there would be no me, because she was the possibility for me," Brandy told The Columbus Dispatch in 2012. "She was the vision of my dreams actually coming true, and she meant everything to me."

After Whitney's passing, Brandy performed "I'm Your Baby" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" at the 2012 BET Awards. Later that year, the singer released her sixth studio-album, Two Eleven — partially named in honor of Houston, as she passed on Feb. 11, which happens to be Brandy's birthday.

"It's the day I was born, and each year, I evolve and change with time," she said in an interview with Features Magazine in 2012. "It also has a whole new meaning to it because I gained my angel. My icon is my angel now. It's all tied in there and I just think it best represents who I am and the responsibilities I have moving on."

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Watch Celia Cruz Win Best Salsa Performance At The First-Ever Latin GRAMMYs | GRAMMY Rewind

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Watch Celia Cruz Win Best Salsa Performance At The First-Ever Latin GRAMMYs | GRAMMY Rewind

"You guys are going to give me a heart attack!" the Queen Of Salsa exclaimed as she accepted her golden gramophone in the year 2000

GRAMMYs/Oct 4, 2019 - 10:08 pm

In the year 2000, at the first-ever Latin GRAMMY Awards, Cuban salsa icon Celia Cruz accepted a golden gramophone for Best Salsa Performance for her famed live album A Night Of Salsa.

Dancing up to the stage to accept her award, the blue-haired performer exclaimed in Spanish, "This is really a surprise! You guys are going to give me a heart attack!"

"I would like to thank God because he has given me the opportunity to be here with you," she continued. "I want to thank the Academy. I want to thank my husband Pedro Knight, who is here tonight. And for this award, I want to dedicate it to and thank La India, who worked with me on this album. To the Maestro, Johnny Pacheco, my divine God. To my brother, wo has left us but tonight, Tito Puente."

Watch Cruz's acceptance speech above in our latest edition of GRAMMY Rewind

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