Celia Cruz, the Afro-Cuban singer, rose from a humble Havana home to command half a century of Latin dance music with her sonorous voice and regal yet folksy personality.
She did not initially aspire to be a singer. She planned to be a teacher of literature. But when a cousin entered her name in a radio talent show, her life in show business became inevitable.
Cruz won the competition, and a flurry of amateur appearances followed. Her father considered the music business disreputable but, encouraged by her mother, Cruz started her music studies.
In 1950, she joined the legendary La Sonora Matancera after the band's lead singer, Myrta Silva, returned to Puerto Rico.
With the Matancera, Cruz recorded a number of songs that have become standards of the genre, such as "El Yerberito Moderno" and "Burundanga."
She left Cuba the year after Fidel Castro took power and her exile remained a deep wound throughout her life. In interviews, she expressed uncharacteristic bitterness that she was not allowed to return to the island to bury her mother, since the regime at the time considered her a traitor.
In all, Cruz recorded more than 70 albums and had more than a dozen Grammy nominations. She won two Grammys and three Latin Grammys. Those were among a host of honors and awards during her career, including the National Medal of Arts, the United States' highest official honor in the arts, bestowed by President Clinton in 1994.