Salsa -- that heady mix of Cuban son, Puerto Rican bomba y plena, mambo, boogaloo, soul and other hot dance sounds -- was, for the most part, a boys' club. But the few ladies who did manage to muscle their way in? Ay dios. Let's put it this way: Both Celia Cruz and La Lupe were frequently referred to as "La Reina" -- and that was no joke.
These two salsa queens helped shape salsa's course and mold it into the formidable, foundational genre it is today. Cruz was a Cuban American singer who rose to fame through a series of smart collaborations (including her star-making turn as lead singer of renowned orchestra Sonora Matancera and her work with pioneers like Tito Puente and Johnny Pacheco). And, of course, her sheer talent and bold personality (like shouting her trademark "Azucar!" during performances) helped. La Lupe, on the other hand, was a fierce, flamboyant Cuban-born singer who specialized in dramatic boleros and sultry Latin soul and earned a reputation for her ferocious and sometimes controversial performances. She was a complicated soul who went through deeply religious phases (including both Santeria and Christianity), as well as issues with her health (including alleged addiction). Cruz and La Lupe alike were revered by fans and fellow musicians, in life as well as after their deaths. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate these great Latina icons in a playlist of some of their best and most beloved songs. Long live the queens!