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Ivy Queen on the Irreplaceable Influence of Celia Cruz

For this year’s Icons & Influences issue, we asked 10 artists to pay tribute to the women who have shaped their sound, provided an example, and inspired them to break down barriers. Puerto Rican reggaeton pioneer Ivy Queen talks about the clarion call she heard in salsa legend Celia Cruz’s historic voice.

In every interview I’ve ever done, the person who I always refer to as my biggest influence is Celia Cruz. For me, Celia had a completely unique, distinct voice, and her look was spectacular. She was a woman surrounded by men at Fania Records — and when Celia would make her big entrance, all the men had to bow down because Mother had arrived to take control.

The tone of her voice — there won’t ever be a replica of it. That’s something I’ve always identified with, because in the beginning of my career, there weren’t any music videos, and it took some time for people to realize I was a woman. My voice was always raspy and strong — later, once people saw the attitude and the braids and the nails, they understood the whole combination. But at first, they thought I was a man. I was like, “Oh, my God, why are they telling me I sound like a boy?” Then I realized it’s my signature. Celia taught me that having a singular, particular voice is a gift.

The Fania All-Stars did a concert in Africa, and I have it on DVD. I watch it all the time. I love this moment when Celia walks on stage wearing these spectacular heels and a spectacular dress and her amazing wig. She starts to sing “Quimbara,” and all the men grab their mics and lineup behind her to sing backup vocals. Héctor Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, all of them move to the corners so that Celia can have her full moment. To me, that is the maximum sign of respect. That DVD is going to go to my daughter one day. I want her to know about women who gave everything to pave the way in the music industry.

“Quimbara,” of course, is one of my favorite songs. I had to sing it at a tribute concert we did for her in Miami, and I was so nervous — you don’t want to mess up. I’ll never sound like Celia, ever, but I wanted everything to be impeccable, for the visuals to be the most beautiful. As soon as that song comes on, just hearing the tone of her voice, the drums, it turns on my African and Caribbean roots. That’s going to be my song forever.

Celia has been an icon that’s surpassed the barriers of time — and of life itself. They just made a Barbie doll of Celia Cruz. Her legacy is untouchable. Everyone talks about her. She’s iconic. If you mention major women artists in the world, Celia is always there. She’s had so much of an impact — not just because of her voice, but because of how she fought back, how she struggled because of her color, because of how she looked.

Her influence is felt even though she’s not here with us anymore. There are avenues and streets with Celia Cruz’s name on them. Her story is about resistance and love, and it’s really beautiful.

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