Sweet Belle of Success

The intoxicating Celia Cruz sends us swooning at the Bass

Cruz was one of the few women to crack into the male-dominated scene of salsa music that emerged from New York's Latin barrios during the Sixties and Seventies. She eventually starred in the salsa opera Hommy at Carnegie Hall in 1973.

A 10-minute video showcases Cruz during the height of salsa's golden age, performing "Bemba Colora," "Quimbara," and "Cucala" with her ecstatic Fania cohorts.

Throughout her career, Cruz was able to marry her devastatingly powerful voice, flamboyant plumage, boundless energy, and ability to change with the times to attract young fans while still pleasing the old.

Celia, we miss you
Celia, we miss you


Through August 19.
Bass Museum of Art, 2121 Park Ave, Miami Beach; 305-673-7350, www.bassmuseum.org.

One of her funkiest dresses — a peacock-patterned quilted caftan — and a Cleopatra Jones-style Afro wig sit side by side with Johnny Pacheco's flute and Tito Puente's graffiti-scrawled timbales, not far from many of the awards Cruz received for turning salsa on its head.

By the Eighties, Celia's fame was ironclad. She had conquered audiences across the globe, headlined a sold-out Madison Square Garden concert televised worldwide — following which the New York Times called her "one of the greatest singers in the world" — and had even earned an honorary doctorate from Yale.

Several gold albums, her two Grammys, and the Presidential Medal of the Arts, awarded to Cruz by President Clinton in 1994, reflect her staggering musical legacy and boundary-transcending charm.

"¡Azúcar!" — Spanish for "Sugar!" — was Celia's battle cry. Like ants drawn to sweetness, those who loved her rallied around her.

On a video clip near the exit, Spanish television talk show host Cristina Saralegui relates how after a taping, Celia waded out into a mob of adoring fans, threw her arms up in the air, and shrieked, "Tócame! Tócame! Tócame!" ("Touch me! Touch me! Touch me!") Left speechless, Saralegui asked Cruz why. The singer responded that she wanted her fans to know she was real.

She was the real deal, all right, and at the Bass her artistry prevails. "¡Azúcar!" reminds audiences why we might never see her like again.

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