The Queen of Salsa will be honored along with four others!
Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso was born October 21, 1925 in Havana, Cuba. She attended Havana’s National Conservatory of Music where she studied voice, theory and piano. Singing became a huge part of her life at a young age, often singing for tourists, her siblings, and at cabarets she attended with her cousin.
After competing on a radio show, The Tea Hour, she gained the attention of influential producers and musicians, which landed her a singing gig in the dance group Las Mulatas Del Fuego. She then went on to join one of Cuba’s most popular orchestras, La Sonora Matancera, as the lead singer. After being barred from her homeland for refusing to bow to the new dictator, she set out in search of new heights, pushing her to move to the U.S. and marry Pedro Knight.
She spent 60 years as a performer, sharing her voice all around the world until her passing in 2003. According to her biography, Cruz recorded over 80 albums, which earned her 23 gold records and five Grammy Awards. She also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an American National Medal of the Arts, two honorary doctorates and a street renamed in her honor in Miami.
Now the salsa superstar is being recognized as part of the American Women Quarters Program for 2024, making her the first Afro-latina to receive this honor. “All of the women being honored have lived remarkable and multi-faceted lives, and have made a significant impact on our Nation in their own unique way. The women pioneered change during their lifetimes, not yielding to the status quo imparted during their lives. By honoring these pioneering women, the Mint continues to connect America through coins which are like small works of art in your pocket,” U.S. Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson said in a statement.
The other four honorees include Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to serve in Congress; Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon and suffragist; Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist and lawyer; and Zitkala-Ša, a voting rights activist.
May their legacies continue!
Photo: Las Mulatas del Fuego/ Associated Press/ Same Passage