Celeste Mendoza at Hotel Nacional

I’d like to share a snippet of a performance from a woman who helped shape Cuban music. Her name is Celeste Mendoza, and I find that the majority of my American friends do not know her name. 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 crowned the Queen of Guaguanco, a raw form of street rumba music typically associated with men.

This clip is from a cabaret performance at the Hotel Nacional in the 60’s. Her acts were well art-directed in a time before music videos. She also chose to stay in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution while the other 2 women departed. As Celia & La Lupe put out albums that made them superstars, Celeste created a strong body of work that has 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 week, I say her name so that new people can discover her.

She was a queen. She raised the game. Mad love to Celeste Mendoza.

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