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7/26/03 - CELIA CRUZ - THE PRIDE OF CUBA - 2003-07-28

Celia Cruz was the "Queen of Salsa".

Fans from all over the world lined the streets of New York to say goodbye to the singer, who died on July 16th of a brain tumor at the age of seventy-seven. Ms. Cruz, who specialized in the Latin-American music known as Salsa, was a multiple Grammy award-winning artist. She recorded more than seventy albums during her sixty-year career.

As her body was carried down a New York street in a horse-drawn carriage piled high with flowers, Celia Cruz was hailed by mourners as a beloved legend:

"She was just a great person, a great musician, and if you ever met Celia, you would know that her spirit is everywhere. She always had a smile from here to here. She was just an amazing woman. She made me cry, laugh. Watching her now, I don't feel sad that she's gone, because I know through her music, she'll live on."

Obviously, Celia Cruz brought much joy to so many. But sadly, she had one unfulfilled ambition -- to return to her home country -- Cuba. Ms. Cruz left her homeland soon after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. She always said she would have loved to return to Cuba, but only when Castro was no longer in power. But Castro -- and his repressive policies -- outlived her.

Celia Cruz was officially ignored in Cuba. Over the years, as her popularity soared around the world, her records and programs were struck from playlists on state-run television and radio stations.

Her death was scarcely mentioned. The Castro-controlled Communist Party newspaper Granma devoted just two brief paragraphs on the sixth page to her. The article noted that she was an important performer who popularized Cuban music, but added that "during the last four decades, [Celia Cruz] was systematically active in campaigns against the Cuban revolution."

No doubt, she would have been proud of that sentence. Just as the Cuban people are proud of Celia Cruz. As President George W. Bush said, "Her success in the years following her departure from her beloved Cuba was a tribute to her perseverance, compassion, and love for life."