HAVANA - While the death of salsa singer Celia Cruz was reported prominently in newspapers across the world, the news got scant and somewhat bitter treatment Thursday in the official media of her homeland.
The Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Cruz’s death in a tiny, two-paragraph story published low on page 6 of the eight-page edition.
But many Cubans remembered Cruz fondly, and relatives held a small memorial service at the Havana home Cruz left in 1960 for the United States and never saw again.
Granma acknowledged Cruz as an “important Cuban performer who popularized our country’s music in the United States.”
But it went on to say that “during the last four decades, she was systematically active in campaigns against the Cuban revolution generated in the United States.”
The treatment reflected Cruz’s opposition to the government of President Fidel Castro. She left Cuba after the 1959 revolution and often said she would love to return - when Castro no longer was in power.
In the end, Castro outlived Cruz. And while her records and programs were struck from playlists on state-run television and radio stations in Cuba, some residents remembered her days in Havana.
Irene Martinez, 63, recalled her “from the old neighborhood, when they came around to pick her up in big cars, but she was always humble and treated everybody the same.”
“She was a wonderful person and a great singer,” Martinez said.
In 2000, Cuban singer Isaac Delgado did a version of a song made famous by Cruz, “El Carnaval,” which became a No. 1 hit for him.
“She always carried Cuba in her heart,” Delgado said Thursday. “She was proud of being Cuban. She was straightforward, with a great stage presence and a gift for dealing with people.”
Delgado recalled working with Cruz in Spain in 1999 and how they avoided talking about politics. Delgado lives in Havana, and even singing with Cruz abroad appears to have been a delicate balancing act.
“She was a genius and I learned a lot from her,” Delgado told The Associated Press in an interview at his mother’s home in Havana. “We talked a lot, but only about music, and we always respected each other’s views, being very discrete so as not to give rises to suspicions about our work.”
Delgado’s mother, Lina Ramirez, a former dancer, remembers working with Cruz between 1947 and 1949, an illustration of how Cruz’s popularity spanned generations.
Cruz’s relatives held a small memorial service at the Havana home where she lived from 1954 to 1960. Cruz’s older sister, Dolores Cruz, still lives in the city.
Cousins Silvia Soriano, Mercedes and Georgina Figueras, and longtime friend Ana Celia Veranes put together a small altar with candles and photographs.
“She was a marvelous woman, indestructible and never equaled,” Soriano said.
But Cruz could be wounded, as she was when Cuban officials reportedly refused her request to visit her dying mother.
“She always said that they didn’t let her see her mother when she was dying,” Soriano said, “and now she (Cruz) died without ever getting her fondest wish, which was to see this house again one day.”
Cruz, also known as the “Queen of Salsa,” died Wednesday from a brain tumor in her home at Fort Lee, N.J., just outside New York. She was 77.
She recorded more than 70 albums, winning best salsa album for “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” at last year’s Latin Grammy Awards and the same award at this year’s Grammys. Her other best-known recordings include “Yerberito Moderno” and “Que le Den Candela.”
In the 1950s, Cruz became famous with the legendary Afro-Cuban group La Sonora Matancera.