By LaKeshia N. Myers
I am a true lover of music. I began playing piano when I was seven years old; was first chair flute in the band; and along the way I picked up minimal skills on the organ and drums. If one were to assess my iTunes playlists, I’m sure they wouldn’t find a more eclectic mix of artists and genres present. I listen to everything from jazz to country and western; but one of my favorite artists of all time was Celia Cruz.
Celia Cruz was a Latin music icon. She was known as the Queen of Salsa music and had perfected the musical fusion that gave voice to Afro-Latinas across the world. Singing in her native language, Spanish, she recorded traditional Yoruba and Santeria religious chants that called to fans across the African diaspora. She broke both color and political barriers, by speaking out against communism in her native Cuba and racism in the United States. She was known as a trailblazer in fashion and voice for many leading Hispanic artists today including Gloria Estefan, Shakira, Amara La Negra, Jennifer Lopez, and even Cardi B.
I remember the first time I saw Celia Cruz on television. She appeared on a 1987 episode of Sesame Street, singing about hummingbirds. She would return to sing in an episode that taught children about Carnival, and again to play a game of “Celia says.” As with many kids who grew up in the late 80s/early 90s, I was exposed to many famous musical artists because of Sesame Street. I became an instant Celia fan on that day. I would continue to follow her career and she was my gateway to music by people of color who spanned the globe—Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba, Johnny Pacheco, Tito Puente and others.
This is why I encourage everyone to take time between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Hispanic and Latino heritage is an integral part of the United States. The people, the food, music, and culture has made an indelible mark on our country. We owe it to ourselves to pause, pay homage and learn something new during this month-long celebration. In the words of Celia, “Azucar!”