‘Her legacy remains intact.’ Mass commemorates Celia Cruz on 15th anniversary of her death

Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz

The memory of Celia Cruz is alive 15 years after her death. At 8 p.m. Monday, the Ermita de la Caridad will remember the “Guarachera of Cuba” with a memorial Mass that will be officiated by the Rev. Carlos Céspedes.

Also, at 6 p.m. Monday, another ceremony for Cruz will be held in the chapel of the Woodland cemetery in New York, where the remains of the star rest.

Her mausoleum will be open so that all of her fans can visit her.

“Celia has been the greatest legend that Cuban music has had. Her contributions are so strong that it feels as if she is still alive. She is our pride. An example of talent, decency and simplicity,” said producer Emilio Estefan, who collaborated with the entertainer.

Celia Cruz was born in Havana, Cuba, on Oct. 21, 1925. She died at her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on July 16, 2003, of brain cancer.

“Her legacy remains intact. She crossed frontiers and adapted to new times without betraying her style,“ said Omer Pardillo, Celia Cruz’s executor, who joined forces with the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami to showcase the exhibit Por siempre Celia, a sample of 700 pieces that the singer treasured for a half century at her home in New Jersey, where she lived with her husband, trumpeter Pedro Knight.

The exhibition will open to the public on Oct. 18. Among other items that will be on display are the famous costumes that the singer used during shows at Havana’s famed Tropicana Night Club in the 1950s; the Cuban passport with which she went into exile, via Mexico, on July 15, 1960; the first contract signed that same year with the Hollywood Paladium, of New York, for the amount of $2,000 per night; books and unpublished photos.

“This exhibition is very important for us because it showcases an exceptional woman who is a symbol of Cubanness across the whole world. Having her personal belongings in the museum will allow us to share her history with children and young people from our schools, as well as with thousands of visitors from other countries who pass through Miami,“ said Ileana Fuentes, director of the museum.

Cruz started her career in “La hora del té,” a popular Cuban radio program where she sang her version of “Nostalgia,” a tango, in 1948. But it was not until she joined the Sonora Matancera orchestra, two years later, that she became an international star.

The singer’s career included 78 record productions, a good number of them recorded with the Fania All Star group, which helped ignite salsa music’s popularity across the globe. Cruz also was honored with eight GRAMMY awards; obtained honorary doctorate degrees from Yale University, the University of Miami and Florida International University; had roles in several movies and performed in more than 6,000 concerts around the world.

Among the highlights marking the 15th anniversary of Cruz’s death will be the presentation of “Celia, su vida, su música, su leyenda,” a musical starring the singer known simply as Lucrecia. The show will be featured at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 16.

The memorial Mass will begin at 8 p.m. at Ermita de la Caridad, 2661 S. Miami Ave. For information, call 305-854-2404.

Follow Arturo Arias-Polo on Twitter: @arturoariaspolo