Behold this electric performance, just a small moment from a woman who helped shape Cuban music. Her name is Celeste Mendoza. It seems the majority of Americans have had little exposure to this artist. During my time at Tropix Media in Havana, I had the good fortune of digging into the national archives for gold nuggets, delivering our new “Sneak Peeks”.
A bit more about Celeste — in terms of the Cuban pantheon of female greats, if Celia Cruz was the Queen of Salsa, and La Lupe was the Queen of Latin Soul, then Celeste is unquestionably crowned the Queen of Guaguanco, a raw form of street rumba music typically associated with men.
This clip is from a 1960’s cabaret performance inside the The Hotel Nacional, a regular stomping ground for Frank Sinatra. Her performances were well art-directed in a time before music videos. She also chose to stay in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution while the other two women departed. As Celia & La Lupe put out albums that made them superstars, Celeste created a strong body of work that stood the test of time — however, her art, music, and tours never stood a chance as Cuba closed itself off.
In Cuba, she suffered from her own personal demons, domestic strife, and ultimately died alone in her Vedado home, only to be discovered by neighbors a few days later. This Black History month, we say her name so that new people can discover her.
She was a queen. She raised the game. Take a deep dive inside Celeste Mendoza’s classics on Spotify.