Salsa Music Legend Featured on Quarter Series

Posted by on Oct 5, 2023 in People and Culture, Stuff You Should Know

Celia Cruz, a Cuban American singer who popularized Salsa music until her death in 2003, will be featured on a quarter in 2024 as part of the American Women Quarters™ Program. She will be the first Afro-Latina featured on U.S. currency.  

Cruz grew up in Havana, Cuba. As a singer she got her first big break in 1950 when she joined the popular band La Sonora Matancera

When Fidel Castro led the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Cruz’s band denounced the new government while on tour in Mexico in 1960. Cruz emigrated to the United States, and she brought her Spanish-language singing to the American audience.  

What is Salsa Music? 

Salsa music combines elements of Cuban music with Puerto Rican and American music styles. Many different types of percussion instruments are used by salsa bands, including bongos, claves, or maracas. Claves are short wooden sticks that are struck together to create a rhythm. Maracas are hand-held instruments with small balls inside. When shaken, they create a distinct rattle sound. These small instruments are often used by the singers during a performance. Salsa bands typically also include a standing string base. And as salsa became more popular, a single trumpet grew into a larger brass section.  

Salsa music can also include a call-and-response section pattern in the song’s chorus. Words are sung by the lead singer and the audience responds by repeating the words back to the rhythm. This makes salsa music very energetic and fun to listen to. 

Cruz Enjoyed a Lengthy Career with Many Achievements  

Celia Cruz was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1925. Her first recorded song was made in Venezuela in 1948. Cruz’s singing career gradually gained popularity through the 1960s and 1970s. She eventually became known as the Queen of Salsa. She was well known for her fast tempo songs.  She continued to record music and tour throughout the world until her death in 2003. Her achievements included gold albums, Grammy Awards, Latin Grammy Awards, and the National Medal of Arts.  

The new coin design depicts Cruz’s love of colorful wigs and lavish fashion that she would wear when performing. It also includes her catchphrase ¡AZÚCAR! which is Spanish for sugar. While shouting ¡AZÚCAR! on stage may suggest thoughts of sweetness and excitement, a researcher at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture has another interpretation. As an Afro Cuban it may also have been Cruz’s remembrance to the enslaved Africans who worked the Cuban sugar plantations.

Women Featured in the 2024 Quarters Program 

The American Women Quarters Program is a four-year program running through 2025. The program features the accomplishments made by women of the United States in fields that include civil rights, government, science, and the arts. Five women are highlighted each year.  

The other four women to be featured in 2024 are Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, writer and activist; Patsy Takemoto Mink, first woman of color to serve in Congress; Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, Civil War era surgeon and women’s rights activist; and Zitkala-Ša, writer, composer, educator, and political activist.  

Dig Deeper Use your school’s library resources to find a song performed by Celia Cruz. What do you like about the song? Write a summary of your thoughts after listening to the song that you chose.