A Tribute to the Queen of Salsa

By Yaniris Monegro

Bronxites danced to the rhythm of salsa at the “Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, Exhibit and Concert” commemorating the 15th anniversary of the singer’s death.

The Woodlawn Cemetery event featured Celia’s costumes, wigs, stage hats, shoes, personal photographs and a documentary video which told the story of the “Queen of Salsa.” The exhibit opened to the public on September 27 and concluded on September 30 with a concert playing her music.

“I’m here to celebrate the life of an icon, Celia Cruz,” Cecilia Valdes, 35, said. Celia Cruz was born in Cuba and later exiled. Valdes, Cuban-American, recently visited Cuba and got emotional sharing her experience. “In Cuba they can’t listen to her music because it’s not allowed, and it’s a shame because her music is a reflection of her sweet soul, Azucar, of her country.”

Celia Cruz is one of the most popular salsa performer of all times, with 23 gold albums.

Alia Tejeda, 23, enjoyed the concert dancing and playing her maracas, a musical instrument typically used in salsa. “I think it is really beautiful, to celebrate life in a cemetery,” said Tejada. “This is a wonderful gathering of people being happy, dancing and celebrating Celia’s life.” Tejeda is part of the new Latino generation; she was eight when Celia died. “To be Latino, a part of our culture is salsa and Celia is salsa,” Tejeda said.

Myrian Casseta, 49, mother of a 16 and 19 year old confessed, “My kids don’t even speak Spanish but they know who she is, and they know her music.” Casseta came from Connecticut with her friend Dora Manzo, 69, a retired teacher. The two sat on their beach chairs and talked about their memories of Cruz. “I mentioned her name in one of my classes and someone said ‘Oh yes, She was the Lady Gaga of her generation,’” Manzo, said.

Many believe Cruz’s music transcended cultures. M Purnell, 71, is African American and doesn’t speak Spanish. “I grew up in in the South Bronx, where there was a lot of Latino music, and that’s how I got to know about her music,” said Purnell, who was wearing a bright orange wig similar to those favored by Cruz.

A Woodlawn trolley escorted passengers to and from the exhibit to the mausoleum while playing her music.

Omer Pardillo Cid, President of the Celia Cruz Foundation, who was her longtime manager, shared some of his memories with Celia. Some expressed sadness that there is no female successor to continue the legacy of salsa for younger generations, he said. “I don’t think any female artist right now has reached the level she did, she is known worldwide,” Wendee Corsino, 58, a fitness instructor, said. “There is no one who can sing like her. Her music speaks to everyone.”

The organizers estimate that several hundred people enjoyed the exhibit and nearly a thousand attended the concert. “I think the turnout was tremendous, I think most importantly the people, the way they reacted, the impact it had,” said Woodlawn Cemetery Executive Director David L. Ison. “So many people that had experienced Celia throughout their lifetimes were able to bring the next generation or even two generations down and relive those experiences with those people.”

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