OCT. 21, 1925-JULY 16, 2003

By David Byrne
December 26, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Farewell: David Byrne pays tribute to Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz could represent A whole attitude and way of life with just one note. In the sound of her voice you could sense the cuisine, the dancing, the clothes, the humor, and the sadness of a whole culture. Her voice embodied sensuality, pleasure, melancholy, and spirituality simultaneously. In that one voice you could hear millions.

I had the fortune to sing with Celia on one song, ”Loco De Amor.” I was asked to write a song for the film Something Wild, and I told the producers, ”I’ll write a song if I can do it as a duet with Celia Cruz.” I was a total fan, having listened and danced to her records for years. Johnny Pacheco and I wrote something that was not strictly doctrinaire salsa, or truly Afro-Cuban, but that reworked those grooves.

I appeared with her on stage a few times in New York, and, most notably for me, at a benefit for an AIDS hospice in Mexico City. I was incredibly nervous, and probably not very good, but her generosity — trying to help a gringo rockero find a way into her music, and playing concerts for a myriad of causes — was an inspiration. She obviously wasn’t doing it for career advancement — she already was the Queen — but as a way to bridge cultural gaps. I only wish that more rock & rollers could have discovered the intensity, passion, and soul in her music. Maybe someday. Viva La Reina. (Cruz died of brain cancer in Fort Lee, NJ.)