Beloved as the queen of salsa and seen as an enduring symbol of pre-Castro Cuba by many of that country's exiles, Celia Cruz had a remarkable six-decade career, with two Grammy awards, three Latin Grammys, and more than 70 albums, among numerous other accolades, to her credit. Born into an extended family in the small Havana village of Barrio Santra Suarez, Cruz was drawn to music from an early age, her career sparked when the future superstar earned her first pair of shoes by singing for a generous tourist. Performing in school productions and winning a local radio contest, she was introduced to the world of Cuban music by an aunt, who took the young songstress to numerous musical hot spots. Although her father urged her to become a teacher, Cruz was soon winning local singing competitions. Her big break came when she was invited to sing for the band La Sonora Matancera in 1950, a position she would hold for 15 years. When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, Cruz immigrated to the United States. Cuban jazz legend Tito Puente helped her form a band for her solo career when she left La Sonora Matancera in 1965, and she successfully toured the globe during the '70s after making a mark on the New York Latin jazz scene. Cruz's worldwide popularity peaked with an appearance in the 1992 film The Mambo Kings; her other movies included Affair in Havana (1957), Juegos de Sociedad (1974), and The Perez Family (1995). She won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Smithsonian Institute in 1994; that same year, the city of Miami named the Cuban community's main street in her honor. Cruz died of brain cancer in Fort Lee, NJ, on July 16, 2003. She was 77.