For The Record: Celebrating Cuban Sensation & Queen Of Salsa Celia Cruz
Look back at how the Havana native began her career as a teenager performing at cabarets and went on to win three GRAMMY Awards, four Latin GRAMMY Awards and a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award
Recount the remarkable story of GRAMMY-winning legend and Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz in the latest episode of GRAMMY.com's For The Record.
Born in 1925 in Havana, Cruz' big break came in 1950 when she joined the popular Afro-Cuban group La Sonora Mantancera. Cruz brought Salsa music to the world, moving to the United States in 1961 after being barred from Cuba after the Cuban revolution for performing abroad. Her illustrious recording and performing career yielded Cruz over 80 albums and songs, four GRAMMY wins, three Latin GRAMMY wins and the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, which she receievd posthumously in 2016.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
10 Facts About Latin Music At The GRAMMYs: History-Making Wins, New Categories & More
For decades, Latin music has been an indispensable part of the GRAMMYs landscape. Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations, here are some milestones in Latin music at Music’s Biggest Night.
The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are right around the corner — and as always, inspired Latin musical offerings will lie within the heart of the list.
While the Recording Academy’s sister academy, the Latin Recording Academy, naturally honors this world most comprehensively, it plays a crucial role in the GRAMMYs landscape just as in that of the Latin GRAMMYs — and there’s been crossover time and time again!
On Nov. 10, the world will behold nominations in all categories — including several within the Latin, Global, African, Reggae & New Age, Ambient, or Chant field. Within the world of Latin music, the awards are: Best Latin Pop Album, Best Música Urbana Album, Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album, Best Música Mexicana Album (Including Tejano), and Best Tropical Latin Album. The Recording Academy also offers a GRAMMY Award for Best Latin Jazz album, though that award is a part of a different field.
Like the Recording Academy and GRAMMYs themselves, these categories have evolved over the years. Along the way, various Latin music luminaries have forged milestones in Academy history.
Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs nominations, here are some key facts to know about Latin music’s history at the GRAMMYs.
The First Award For Latin Music At The GRAMMYs Was Given In 1975
The first winner for Best Latin Recording was pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri, for 1974’s The Sun of Latin Music. Now an eight-time GRAMMY winner, Palmieri took home the golden gramophone in this category at both the 1976 GRAMMYs and the following year for Unfinished Masterpiece.
At the 1980 GRAMMYs, the first group winner was the thrice nominated Afro-Cuban jazz band Irakere, for their 1978 self-titled debut.
Percussionist Mongo Santamaria holds the record for the most nominations within the Best Latin Recording category.
The Sound Of Latin Pop — And The Title Of The Award — Has Shifted Over 40 Years
Back in 1983, this category was called Best Latin Pop Performance. The first winner was José Feliciano, who took home the golden gramophone for his album Me Enamoré at the 26th GRAMMY Awards.
Best Latin Pop Performance eventually pivoted to Best Latin Pop Album and Best Latin Pop or Urban Album, then back to Best Latin Pop Album — just another example of how the Academy continually strives for precision and inclusion in its categories.
As for most wins, it’s a tie between Feliciano and Alejandro Sanz, at four. Feliciano also holds the distinction of having two consecutive wins, at the 1990 and 1991 GRAMMYs.
The Best Latin Urban Album Category Was Introduced In 2007
The first winner in this category was the urban hip-hop outfit Calle 13, for their 2007 album Residente o Visitante.
The first female nominee was Vanessa Bañuelos, a member of the Latin rap trio La Sinfonia, who were nominated for Best Latin Urban Album for their 2008 self-titled album at the 2009 GRAMMYs.
Here’s Who Dominated The Best Norteño Album Category
The first GRAMMY winner in the Best Norteño Album category was Los Tigres Del Norte, for their 2006 album Historias Que Contar, at the 2007 GRAMMYs. To date, they have landed four consecutive wins — at the 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 GRAMMYs.
The Intersection Between Latin, Rock & Alternative Has Shifted
Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album; Best Latin Rock, Alternative Or Urban Album; Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance… so on and so forth.
If that’s a mouthful, again, that shows how the Academy continually hones in on a musical sphere for inclusion and accuracy’s sake.
Within this shifting category, the first winner was Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, who won Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance for 1997’s Fabulosos Calavera at the 1998 GRAMMYs.
At the 2016 GRAMMYs, there was a tie for the golden gramophone for Best Latin Rock, Urban Or Alternative Album, between Natalia Lafourcade and Pitbull. Overall, the most wins underneath this umbrella go to Maná, with a total of three.
These Artists Made History In Tropical Latin Categories
Over the years, this component of Latin music has been honored with GRAMMYs for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Performance, Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album, Best Tropical Latin Performance, and Best Tropical Latin Album.
The first winner of a GRAMMY for Best Tropical Latin Performance was Tito Puente & His Latin Ensemble, for "On Broadway," from the 1983 album of the same name.
This Was The First Latin Artist To Win Album Of The Year
Ten-time GRAMMY winner and 14-time nominee Carlos Santana holds this distinction for 1999’s "Supernatural," at the 2000 GRAMMYs.
This Was The First Spanish-Language Album To Be Nominated For Album Of The Year
That would be Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, at the 2023 GRAMMYs; Bad Bunny also performed at the ceremony, but Harry Styles ended up taking home that golden gramophone.
Ditto Música Mexicana — Formerly Known As Best Regional Mexican Music Album
The Inaugural Trophy For Best Música Urbana Album Went To…
The one and only Bad Bunny, for 2020’s El Último Tour Del Mundo. He took home the golden gramophone again at the 2023 GRAMMYs for Un Verano Sin Ti.
Keep checking back as more information comes out about the 2024 GRAMMYs — and how the Recording Academy will honor and elevate Latin genres once again!
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Jemal Countess/WireImage for Songwriter's Hall of Fame
For The Record: How Taylor Swift's 'Speak Now' Changed Her Career — And Proved She'll Always Get The Last Word
The third Taylor Swift album to receive the 'Taylor's Version' treatment, 'Speak Now' isn't just a time capsule for the superstar — it was the turning point for her both personally and professionally.
As Taylor Swift began work on her third album, she knew all eyes were on her. The singer had solidified her status as a bonafide country-pop superstar thanks to her sophomore LP, 2008's Fearless, which earned Swift her first four GRAMMYs, including Album Of The Year. Meanwhile, her personal life had become non-stop fodder for the tabloids; critics painted her as a boy-crazy maneater ready to chew up exes for the sake of hits.
While her first two records had largely centered on romantic daydreams and small-town adolescence, Swift's new level of fame meant her next set of music would involve more high-profile subjects. Like, say, the rapper who'd tried to humiliate her in front of the entire world at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Or the Hollywood starlet she was convinced had stolen her pop star boyfriend. Or the critic who had taken a particularly vicious swipe at her on his well-known industry blog. All of those moments pinwheeled around a common theme: speaking up, speaking out, speaking her truth. And the result became Speak Now.
"These songs are made up of words I didn't say when the moment was right in front of me," Swift wrote in the LP's liner notes. "These songs are open letters. Each is written with a specific person in mind, telling them what I meant to tell them in person."
Swift's Speak Now era officially began in August 2010, when she released "Mine" as the album's lead single. The rollout was expedited by two weeks after the song leaked on the internet, but even with an earlier-than-planned release, the star immediately proved she was pushing her songcraft past the high school hallways and teenage fairytales of her first two albums — a level of maturity that rang through Speak Now.
"Mine" told an altogether different kind of love story, one that confronted the daunting realities of adulthood head-on. Instead of the hopeless romantic fans had come to know on past hits like "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me," Swift positioned herself as the jaded protagonist at the tale's center, one whose walls are only broken down by this new, grown-up kind of love.
Becoming her fourth top five hit on the Billboard Hot 100, "Mine" also contained a particularly flawless turn of phrase in its chorus — "you made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter" — that remains, to this day, one of the best examples of Swift's razor-sharp talent for crafting the perfect lyric.
The rest of Speak Now — which Swift wrote entirely alone as a mic drop against critics — proved to have the same kind of brilliance. Swift had unleashed a new layer of her songwriting ability; not only did she dive deeper into the unveiled honesty of her diaristic style, but she also hinted at the whimsical storytelling that was to come on future albums, particularly 2020's folklore and evermore. But above all, Speak Now showed that Swift would never leave anything unspoken again.
Swift's evolution as a songwriter mirrored her growing success: Upon its October 2010 release, Speak Now sold an eye-popping 1,047,000 copies in its first week. The seven-digit sales figure nearly doubled Fearless' opening week tally of 592,300, and became the first album to achieve the million-copy first-week feat in more than two years. (The achievement also foreshadowed the records Swift would break with her subsequent releases, most recently her majorly record-breaking 10th album, Midnights.)
Nearly every track on Speak Now had fans and the press hunting for clues about who was on the receiving end of Swift's open letters. There's "Back to December," a break-up ballad written for Taylor Lautner, and "Better Than Revenge," a condescending clapback at Camilla Belle for "sabotaging" her romance with Joe Jonas. She even offered Kanye West a surprising amount of grace after their viral VMAs moment on the downtempo ballad "Innocent."
Arguably the most talked-about Speak Now subject was (and still is) John Mayer, who had two songs aimed squarely at him: pop-punk-fueled single "The Story of Us" and "Dear John," a devastating dressing down of their 12-year age gap. The latter even mimicked Mayer's trademark blues guitar as Swift wailed, "Dear John, I see it all now, it was wrong/ Don't you think 19's too young/ To be played by your dark, twisted games when I loved you so?/ I should've known."
Perhaps the most victorious moment from Taylor's Speak Now era, though, came from "Mean." The banjo-tinged tune served as a deliciously twangy clapback to critic Bob Lefsetz, who had publicly derided Swift's 2010 GRAMMYs performance with Stevie Nicks, just hours before she was awarded Album Of The Year for the first time.
Not only did "Mean" end up winning Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance at the 2012 GRAMMYs, but Swift also got the last word by performing the single during the ceremony. In the final chorus, Swift landed her knock-out punch — the music dropped out completely as she triumphantly declared, "But someday I'll be singin' this at the GRAMMYs/ And all you're ever gonna be is mean."
Nearly 13 years after Speak Now was first unveiled, Swift is now on the precipice of giving her beloved third album its highly anticipated Taylor's Version re-release — appropriately the third project after Fearless and Red to be re-recorded in her history-making quest to own her life's work.
The new edition of Speak Now will contain all 14 tracks on the original LP as well as sixth single "Ours" and fellow deluxe cut "Superman." (Though released in March to celebrate the start of The Eras Tour, "If This Was a Movie" was mysteriously left off the (Taylor's Version) tracklist.) It will also feature six vault tracks from the era, including collaborations with Paramore's Hayley Williams ("Castles Crumbling") and Fall Out Boy ("Electric Touch"), two acts Swift said "influenced me most powerfully as a lyricist" back when she was recording the album in 2010.
As the lone LP in her now 10-album discography to be written solely by Swift's pen, Speak Now undoubtedly holds a special and solitary place in the superstar's heart. Looking back on the album after announcing the Taylor's Version release at her first Nashville Eras Tour stop, she made clear it has only become more meaningful over the last 13 years.
"I first made Speak Now, completely self-written, between the ages of 18 and 20," she wrote in a social media post announcing the album. "The songs that came from this time in my life were marked by their brutal honesty, unfiltered diaristic confessions and wild wistfulness. I love this album because it tells a tale of growing up, flailing, flying and crashing…and living to speak about it."
Photo: Mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images
Celebrating Tito Puente's Centennial: 10 Essential Songs By The Mambo King
Born Ernest Anthony Puente Jr in 1923, Tito Puente has brought to the world some of the most exciting sounds of modern Latin Music — GRAMMY.com shines light on 10 must-hear songs by the King of Mambo.
Born and raised in Harlem, New York, Tito Puente follows a lineage of musicians who have pushed Latin American sounds to the future while holding onto traditional forms and century-old rhythms. There aren't many who could handle the burden of moving forward with an eye on the rearview mirror, but Puente, a son of immigrants, did it gracefully. Whether playing his famous, devilish timbales and his ever-precise vibraphones or arranging multiple orchestras sections, from brass to drums, Tito was a key-figure in shaping Latin American modern music in the U.S. and across the world.
Puente's life was intertwined with music from an early age. First a piano student (his mom enrolled him in a 25 cent class) and then a teenage dancer who loved drumming, he always showed a knack for going beyond reading music scores or reproducing the same old standards. In Tito Puente and the Making of Latin Music, ethnomusicologist Steven Loza, the six-time GRAMMY winner recalled mixing "jazz and Latin music all the time while I was a young kid, you know, studying."
A talented kid who was used to playing at every impromptu stage in Spanish Harlem and who got the chance to attend the Juilliard School of Music, Tito's credentials were solid by the early 1950s when he first started his professional career. From then on, the maestro enlisted in several projects, recordings, and collaborations. It didn't take long for him to become synonymous with the modern Latin Music that was beaming out of the Latino diaspora in the States. In the 1950s and '60s, Puente helped to shape a melting pot of identities that found common ground on the dance floor.
Tito was the go-to person for the likes of Celia Cruz or La Lupe and an inspirational figure for musicians such as Carlos Santana. Even during the '80s and '90s, he didn't quit touring and writing new music. Sones, montunos, boleros, merengues, salsas, cha cha chas, rumbas, and mambos: there's only so much Puente could carry in his bag, but he made a lot by reassembling all of these cards into more than a hundred albums, countless performances, and several all-time songs.
Tito Puente passed away in 2000, yet his legacy in Latin music continues unabated. In honor of his centennial birthday on April 20, GRAMMY.com revisits 10 essential songs in Tito Puente's canon.
"Oye Mi Guangancó" (1956)
Cuban Carnival is one of the first albums by Puente fully dedicated to celebrating Cuba's musical plethora — a diverse landscape of claves and patterns where he laid the foundations of his own work.
"Oye Mi Guagancó" revamps the traditional guagancó, a strain of the complex rumba family, demonstrating his innovative approach early on. Instead of reproducing the genre's essential form, Puente uses the different sections of the song as modules and blends percussion and brass with fine artistry: breakdowns free the way for his timba to shine while saxophones and trumpets wander through melodies and countermelodies that fit each other.
"Mambo Gozon" (1958)
Dance Mania was a club banger of its time. Released in 1958, the album unleashed a multicolored palette of Latin America-through-New York music with the sounds of Puente's youth wandering Spanish Harlem and sneaking into jazz clubs.
Tito Puente applied his theoretical learnings from Juilliard in clubs such as the Palladium Ballroom, where he quickly mastered the Afro-Cuban fast-paced, counter-metric heir of montunos that would make him a king: mambo. The genre represented a pivotal point, allowing Puente to arrange, conduct and perform creatively while making the crowd dance.
One of the highlights of this time, "Mambo Gozon" features flaring and poly melodic horns, rattling marimbas and scrapping guiras, chorus and ad-libs melded together into a single and ordered mess.
"Oye Como Va" (Live w/ El Canario) (1962)
Few songs have embraced so much of the Latin American spirit in popular music as "Oye Como Va." Released in the early '60s, this song was covered and revisited by a number of artists all across the world, from Santana's dreamy guitars to SoundCloud club-made remixes.
Showcasing his resourceful and inventive arranging skills, Puente imagined an ostinato piano (the guajeo pattern) that creates a cyclical build-up alongside horns and vocals filling up voids with an irresistible sing-along type of melody. The outcome is a genre-bending and yet straightforward take on cha cha cha — another of the several Cuban music genres that fueled Tito's orchestrations, which are reminiscent of Arcaño y sus Maravillas' "Chanchullo" to and the Champs' "Tequila."
In this live performance with Dominican singer Jose Alberto 'El Canario', whose flute-like whistle is nothing but amazing, Puente plays at ease — he knows this song is the strongest card in his pocket.
"El Mambo Diablo" (1963)
Historically, especially in Eurocentric cultures, percussion has played a supporting role in music — from their position behind the band to the fact that bandleaders are usually guitarists, pianists, singers. Tito Puente is amongst the most important artists in the world to have given percussion the weight it deserves, doing so with the help of timbales and also vibraphones, his second home.
In this live recording of "El Mambo Diablo," a young Tito showcases his skills as both instrumentalist and bandleader, moving swiftly from the main theme to a powerful crescendo and yelling to signal changes to his musicians. For Puente, percussion takes center stage.
"La Guarachera" with Celia Cruz (1966)
Celia Cruz, alongside La Lupe, stands out as one of the most remarkable female vocalists to have shared the frontstage with Puente. By the late '60s, Tito had already established himself as an eminent figure in the making of traditional Cuban music. This was when he first collaborated with Cruz, and their partnership continued for over a decade.
In "La Guarachera," Puente masterfully blends a frenzied mambo section into the typical guaracha form and engages in a thrilling call-and-response game with Cruz. As they challenge each other, Puente's timbas sound like vocals. This recording is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and iconic crossovers between Puerto Rican and Cuban music.
Fania All Stars - "Sabor Sabor" (1968)
If Tito Puente has formalized the wide, diverse Latin music idiom in the U.S., Fania Records did the same for salsa. The New York-based label transformed that club music that soundtracked frenzy nights for Latin, brown and Black youth dance into world-famous records — and have never left the dancefloor.
Fania All Stars, a dynamic big band featuring the label's top talent, including Salsoul's founder Joe Bataan, percussionist extraordinaire Ray Barreto, and Puente himself, is a testament to the label's incredible influence. Puente plays a supporting role on "Sabor Sabor," expertly setting the rhythmic pace that drives pianist Eddie Palmieri's feverish and incisive keystrokes.
"Que Falta Tu Me Haces" (1977)
Just like many of his peers, an early career Puente had to master a large repertoire of ballroom classics — from old-time sons, to newly arrived bossa nova tunes and boleros. All the drama and melancholy surrounding this genre seem odd to Tito's oeuvre.
But even in such an immense collection of upbeat and festive tracks, there's room for some sadness. In the 1977 album The Legend, the composer and arranger goes back to his origins with the wholehearted and bittersweet "Que Falta Tu Me Haces." Alongside Santos Cólon, another of his long-time collaborators, Puente delivers enticing vibraphone lines, an unusual element to bolero's deepness that fits in smoothly.
"Take Five" (1985)
Every jazz musician knows that standards not only provide a common ground for mingling and getting into the mood, but also offer an opportunity to show off and shine amongst peers. Tito Puente's rendition of Paul Desmond's timeless classic is a prime example of this.
Instead of the original song's odd 5/4 stride, Puente opts for a seemingly easier 4/4 pattern. However, it's precisely this welcoming arrangement that allows the maestro to showcase his creativity and take center stage. In his tasteful, upbeat take on "Take Five," Puente leaves ample room for his Latin Ensemble's individual talents to shine. And as the song draws to a close, Puente unleashes a multi-layered, fast-paced timba solo. It's like a minimal, swingy Art Blakey proving that, sometimes, less is more.
"Guajira Soul" (1988)
The relevance of Puente's work cannot be measured solely within the Latin American region and its diaspora. His work has had an impact across different genres, from rock to jazz, by forging sonic connections from the Caribbean to the rest of the world.
On 1988's Salsa meets Jazz, Tito collaborated with jazz saxophonist Phil Woods and revisited the works of legends like Dizzy Gillespie in "Con Alma."
Rather than replicating these masters or imitating the jazz idiom, Puente incorporated the trends and sounds of the '70s and '80s, from fusion to electric organs, demonstrating that there is more Latin music in jazz than one might imagine. His "Guajira Soul" is an excellent example of his skillful vibraphone playing in conversation with Mario Rivera's lively flute melodies.
"Mambo Kings Solo (Timbalero)" with Cesar Castillo (1992)
Tito Puente's influence on popular culture extends far beyond the realm of music. By the late 1980s, the legendary musician had already toured the world, earned GRAMMYAwards, and achieved recognition as the godfather of Latin modern music from North to South America.
A film appearance was just the icing on the cake. His character in the movie Mambo Kings is more than a cameo. Puente portrays himself as a talented musician who lends a helping hand to the Castillo brothers, who have left their hometown of Havana in search of opportunities in New York City. Multi-awarded actor Armand Assante is Carlos, who joins Tito into an impromptu timba jam (or descarga, in Cuban Spanish) in "Timbalero." The frantic and yet short-lived session reaches out to a deadly climax that couldn't be opposite to the joy of the song while embodying all of its energy.