Queen of Salsa honored in Little Havana in “Celia Cruz Forever” exhibit

Queen of Salsa honored in Little Havana in "Celia Cruz Forever" exhibit

By Lisa Petrillo | CBS News Miami – August 15, 2023

MIAMI – Celia Cruz will forever be known as the “Queen of Salsa.” The Cuban-born singer, who took her talents to stages around the world, while breaking barriers, is now being honored at the Tower Theater in Little Havana in an exhibit titled “Celia Cruz Forever.”

Omer Pardillo was her manager and the executor of her estate.

“Celia, I always say, was a woman who was Black and poor. She came out of Cuba, a small island, and conquered the world just with her voice,” Pardillo said.

“Anywhere you saw Celia Cruz performing, you saw a free Cuba. Celia was Cuba outside of Cuba.”

And this exhibit reflects that, honoring the award-winning singer while bringing guests into her world.  Her colorful costumes, iconic wigs, awards and all sorts of memorabilia are on display.

Photographer Alexis Rodriguez took a famous picture on wall on the exhibit of Celia in 1993 at Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Gardens for a fashion magazine. His husband, stylist Tico Torres, found the dress.

The photo is also at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. And for Alexis,  it never gets old.

“Actually, it’s kind of mind-blowing, you know, to say that shot was not planned. It was spontaneous,” Rodriguez said.

“And the thing is that she sang a cappella, you know she’s just singing “Guantanamera” during that shot. All out loud and unplanned.

Her costumes were all glamour. The only replica in the exhibit is an original gown she wore at The Tropicana Night Club in Cuba  75 years ago. The real dress is at the Smithsonian.

Pardillo points out an actual colorful sequin dress she wore at The Orange Bowl in the 1980s.

And you see her shoes? Those were from the 1960s,” he said.

“Wow,” said CBS News Miami’s Lisa Petrillo. “Those are in style now.”

She had more than 150 custom-made wigs in her collection.

“These wigs are 25-30 years old. Look at these colors. There are three, four or five wigs within one wig, and never did one of the wigs fall off. Never,” he said.

There’s a section with photographs of her famous friends, from Gloria Estefan to Ricky Martin, and the late Tony Bennett.

“This is what a dressing room for Celia would look like, said Pardillo entering another part of the exhibit.

Upstairs is a complete replica of the superstar’s backstage dressing room. It’s filled with her makeup case, personal items, photos and more.

“So the essence of Celia Cruz is definitely here”, said Pardillo.

“You think she’s going to come out at any minute and say, Azuca!, Pardillo said.

“I was just going to say that you can really feel that this is her place,” said Petrillo.

“It feels like her.”

As proof of her ever-lasting legacy, especially here in the USA, a 25-cent coin will be released next year.

“Celia Cruz Forever” is on at the Tower Theater in Little Havana now through next year.

For ticket info, click here.

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