Celia Cruz
Celia Cruz made her name as a salsa artist at a time when the Afro-Latin music scene was male-dominated. (Credit: I Want a Poster, Flickr)

A Cuban-American artist who reigned for decades as the “Queen of Salsa Music” will be the first Afro-Latina featured on U.S. quarters

The late Celia Cruz is one of five 2024 honorees for the American Women Quarters Program, which celebrates the contributions of American women by giving them recognition on U.S. currency. Other 2024 nominees include Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to serve in Congress; Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist and lawyer; Zitkala-Ša, a voting rights activist from the Yankton Sioux Nation; and Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon and suffragist.

“All of the women being honored have lived remarkable and multi-faceted lives, and have made a significant impact on our nation in their own unique way,” Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson said in a statement.

Cruz, born in Havana in 1925, began her career as the first Black lead singer for the country’s most popular orchestra, La Sonora Matancera. She also headlined Havana’s Tropicana nightclub in the 1950s. After the Cuban Revolution, she immigrated to the U.S. and made her name as a salsa artist at a time when the Afro-Latin music scene was male-dominated.

In a prosperous career, Cruz recorded over 80 albums, earned 23 gold records, won five Grammy Awards and received the president’s National Medal of Arts. 

”I want more women in salsa,” Cruz told The New York Times in 1985. ”Someday, I have to die, and I want people to say, ‘Celia Cruz has died, but here is someone who can take over.’ ”

Cruz, who passed away in 2003, is remembered as a pioneer of the first Latin wave in American popular music. She paved the way for other women salsa artists such as Gloria Estefan, La India and Olga Tanon.

By honoring Cruz and others through the American Women Quarters Program, “the Mint continues to connect America through coins which are like small works of art in your pocket,” said Gibson.

The designs for the 2024 coins will be released later this year.