Celina González, one of the greatest voices in Cuban music and also one of its most least sung, has died in Havana according to reports from the Cuban Music Institute. She was 85 years old.
González was best known for performances in the style of guajira, a Cuban form of what we might call "country" music, dealing primarily with rural life while leaning on Spanish influences. She and her husband Reutilio Domínguez also incorporated the more rhythmic Afro-Cuban traditions into their music as well, best represented in her most famous song "Santa Barbara." The recording was a hit and was later recorded by Celia Cruz, the more well known of the "Celi"s in the United States.
Although Cruz ended up staying in the United States following the revolution of Fidel Castro, becoming the "Queen of Salsa," González spent her entire life in Cuba, hence her relative obscurity compared to other talented Cuban musicians.
Her version of "Santa Barbara," which had received more airplay in the United States under Cruz's name, gathered attention when it was included on the Que Viva Chango! compilation during 1993. Ned Sublette, a prominent musicologist and founder of the Qbadisc label that release Que Viva Chango!, referred to Gonzalez as "the greatest Cuban voice that U.S. audiences never got to hear," commenting on her death to Billboard.
She received at least a modicum of attention in the United States around the turn of the century. Although she and her husband had stopped performing together during 1964, she brought back part of their catalogue for an album with her son, titled 50 años...Como una Reina, which would receive a nomination for Best Traditional Tropical Album at the 2001 Latin Grammys. She would receive the Cuban National Music Prize during 2002.