Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with People CHICA's LatinXcellence series, spotlighting the incredible people who have changed the world through their work and activism. Today we focus on Celia Cruz, an international music icon who opened so many doors for women and Afro-Latinos in the music industry while demonstrating the power of love and kindness.

Por Lena Hansen
Septiembre 21, 2020
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Celia Cruz
Credit: Getty Images

Here at People CHICA we celebrate our Latinidad 365 days a year, but during Hispanic Heritage Month, we go extra hard. Established in 1988, Hispanic Heritage Month (also known as Latino Heritage Month or Latinx Heritage Month) recognizes the generations of Latinos who have positively influenced and enhanced our society. All month long, we'll be celebrating with a series called #LatinXcellence, highlighting people who have made a difference in Latino culture through their art, work, and activism.

Celia Cruz was unique. From her magnificent voice and charisma to her colorful wigs, nails, and outfits, the Queen of Salsa — as the Cuban singer came to be known — was hypnotic both on and off the stage. She was also beloved by people all over the world and gave back to her community in various ways. The Celia Cruz Foundation is a nonprofit organization that raises funds for underprivileged students who want to study music; the singer was also a big supporter of cancer patients, donating to the League Against Cancer and performing at fundraising events.

Born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, Celia died in 2003 at age 77 after a battle with brain cancer. Thousands mourned her at her emotional funeral in Miami, and over a decade later, she still has millions of fans everywhere. With classic hits like "La Vida Es Un Carnaval," "Yerbero Moderno," and "Burundanga," she filled nightclubs and family parties with joy. She also left a legacy of love and kindness. Her love story with musician Pedro Knight — whom she met when she joined the band La Sonora Matancera in Havana before becoming a solo artist — is legendary, as is the kindness with which she treated fans and people from all walks of life.

Reaching international stardom after coming from a small town on a tiny island, the singer inspired the Telemundo series Celia starring Aymee Nuviola and Jeimy Osorio as Cruz. She also inspired a children's book and has motivated many Afro-Latinas, including singer Amara La Negra, to follow their dreams. Her battle cry "Azúuuuucar!" reminded everyone to make life a little sweeter.

La Guarachera de Cuba is one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. She made Afro-Cuban music and salsa — as a member of New York's iconic band Fania All-Stars — famous all over the world. Even though Celia was larger than life, she never lost her humble nature and her pride for where she came from.