Women's History Month: 'Queen of Salsa' to be featured on new quarter
March 1 marks the first day of Women’s History Month. To celebrate, the U.S. Mint has selected five women as the 2024 honorees for the American Women Quarters Program.
One of those selected to be on new American quarters is a woman known as the “Queen of Salsa,” Celia Cruz, who will be the first Afro Latina to appear on the U.S. quarter.
"Azucar!" became her trademark shout out. Cruz was one of the 20th Century’s most celebrated Latin music artists, recording more than 80 albums and earning several Grammy awards.
Born in Cuba in 1925 to working class parents, she had her big break when she became the lead singer for the Afro Cuban orchestra Sonora Matancera. Her first big song was “La Guarachera de Cuba.”
Many of her early songs, like "Yerbero Moderno," made references to life’s simple pleasures in her homeland.
During the band’s tour in Mexico in 1960, they renounced Fidel Castro’s regime, which resulted in the band’s exile from Cuba. She settled in New Jersey to join the New York area’s burgeoning Latin music scene.
As a solo artist, she recorded “La Bemba Colora,” which helped cement her fame in the U.S. She began collaborating with Tito Puente and then Hector Lavoe and Johnny Pacheco, becoming the only female member of the legendary Fania All Stars supergroup.
In 1974, her hit "Quimbara" cemented her as a global star. In 1989, after having received 19 Grammy Award nominations, she finally won her first for the song “Ritmo En El Corazón.” In her 60s, she made her Hollywood debut in the film Mambo Kings. By then, she was also known as “La Gran Señora” of Latin Music.
Then, she released her two most popular songs in 1998's “La Vida es un Carnaval,” with its message of positivity. In 2001, she released “La Negra Tiene Tumbao,” for which she won a Grammy and Latin Grammy for Best Salsa Album. During the 2002 Latin Grammys, she made her memorable and humorous acceptance speech, poking fun of her English language abilities.
Cruz died in 2003. Half a million people lined up to pay their last respects in Miami and New York. The Fania Records website still says, "Celia left behind a rich musical legacy, and will always reign as "La Gran Señora,” and the undisputed 'Queen of Salsa.'"
The other honorees for the American Women Quarters Program are:
- Patsy Takemoto Mink of Hawaii, the first woman of color to serve in Congress
- Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War-era surgeon, women’s rights advocate and abolitionist
- Rev. Pauli Murray, a poet, writer, activist, lawyer and Episcopal priest
- Zitkala-Ša, also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, a writer, composer, educator and political activist for Native Americans’ right to U.S. citizenship and other civil rights
The designs for the 2024 American Women Quarters will be released in mid-2023.