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Celia Cruz Is Timeless. One Kid Says She Might Be 'The Lady Gaga Of Our Time'

Celia Cruz's music is timeless. 

In her iconic La Vida Es Un Carnaval, she sings  – "You don't have to cry … life is a carnival … it's more beautiful to live singing." When it plays in Miami nightclubs, people hit the dance floor.

Along with her music, Cruz is known for her one-of-a-kind aesthetic: tremendous wigs, vibrant multicolored dresses and exquisite shoes. And you can't talk about Cruz without mentioning her positive personality – the way she could hit rooms like ray of sunshine when she smiled or said "AZUCAR," her iconic catchphrase. 

The American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora is celebrating the Queen of Salsa with an exhibition called Por Siempre Celia, or "Forever Celia," that runs through October 25th. It features clothing, awards, photos, posters and memorabilia of the Afro-Latina’s 60-year career. Cruz’s former manager Omer Pardillo-Cid joined Sundial to talk about her legacy and key items from the exhibition. 

This has been lightly edited for clarity.

WLRN: Celia Cruz is chronicling her immigrant experience in the song Pasaporte Latino Americano. What is she saying in this song?

PARDILLO-CID: Celia was about getting people together. That song was done in the early '90s. And there was big immigration at the time from Venezuelans, Peruvians and Argentinians. And she says 'It is about time to tell these immigrants my experience, that I came like them in another time - 1960.' It was a song about bringing people together, don't be a stranger and this is a new phase for you.


Credit Omer Pardillo-Cid / Courtesy
Some of Celia Cruz's iconic dresses displayed at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora.

How did she handle the change of coming when she had to leave Cuba and come to the United States? 

It was very hard because when she left Cuba, her mom was sick. Her mom had cancer and within two years of her being in the United States, in 1962, her mom passed away and she was not allowed to go back to Cuba. From that moment she said, 'This is my country from now on  – I'm not going back to Cuba until something changes, because he said I was not allowed to go back for my mom's burial. I will never go back to this government.' One of the things that hurt Celia the most was being prohibited in her own country.

Celia broke all these barriers as a lead black female vocalist. How has her music influenced a lot of what you hear today?

Well if you hear La Negra Tiene Tumbao  – that was the first time that you mixed reggaeton and salsa together –it's what's happening today. Her influence is there all the time. Alejandro Sanz had a sample of Celia's track across his latest single. Celia's influenced a lot of young Latinos. Celia did leave a great legacy behind, and her music is timeless.

For the younger generations who may not have had the chance to hear her, who could you compare her to?

I'm going to tell you what a 6-year-old told me the other day. Kids don't lie. She told me, 'Celia Cruz is the Lady Gaga of our time.' Because of the looks and the way she portrays herself. She's kind of right, because with things that Celia did back then, in the '70s, that colorful attire is what you see today.

Credit Omer Pardillo-Cid / Courtesy
Letters from Celia to her family in Cuba and other memorabilia that are displayed at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora's exhibition 'Forever Celia.'