Urban Sounds, Urban Portaiture: “La Reina” – The Queen – Celia Cruz

"La Reina." The Queen of Latin Music, Celia Cruz.  Wall painting, low-100s between Lexington and Third, Manhattan, 2012. (Fuji X100). Click to enlarge.

“La Reina.” The Queen of Latin Music, Celia Cruz. Wall painting, low-100s between Lexington and Third Avenues, Manhattan, 2012. (Fuji X100). Click to enlarge.

The great Afro-Cuban singer Celia Cruz, one of the voices of Latin Music during the second half of the twentieth century.

The portrait above graces a tenement wall at the western edge of Spanish Harlem.  The tenements of Spanish Harlem were built more than a century ago to capitalize on flows of immigrants and their children attempting to escape the  congestion and degradation of the Lower East Side. (One of own grandmothers lived for a few years only a block away from the wall on which the portrait above is painted.)  Most of the first wave of East Siders to arrive in the neighborhood (Jews and Italians, mostly) soon moved northwards following the routes of new subway lines to housing that arose in the Bronx in the years after World War I.

By the 1940s, Spanish Harlem had become the main destination for migrants to New York City from Puerto Rico.  In the 1950s and 60s, some blocks of Spanish Harlem were amongst the poorest, most crowded and densely populated places on earth.  In recent years the population of the neighborhood has thinned out and, in places, gentrification has begun. Nevertheless, the voice of Celia Cruz still echos resonantly.

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