Celia Cruz, one of the most successful Cuban musicians of her generation, has died at her New Jersey home aged 77, it was announced today.
With her powerful voice and flamboyant stage shows, Cruz helped bring Latin music to a broad audience.
Her career took her from singing in Havana nightclubs to becoming known as the "Queen of Salsa" in the US and gaining pre-eminence in a genre that had previously been dominated by men.
Her publicist, Blanca Lasalle, said that Cruz died at her home in Fort Lee on Wednesday night. She had undergone surgery for a brain tumour in December, but her health continued to decline.
Ruben Blades, a friend and frequent musical collaborator, said that Cruz was a classy icon.
"Celia Cruz could take any song and make it unforgettable. She transcended the material," he told the Associated Press.
"She became a symbol of quality and strength, and she became a symbol of Afro-Cuban music. You couldn't be a fan of Celia and not be a fan of Afro-Cuban music - because she was Afro-Cuban music."
Cruz studied to be a teacher in her native Havana, but moved into showbusiness when a relative put her forward for a radio talent contest, which she won. She later studied music at the Havana Conservatory and performed at the world-famous Tropicana nightclub.
In the 50s, she found fame with legendary Afro-Cuban group La Sonora Matancera. She left Cuba for the US after the 1959 revolution, and never returned.
Her alliance with fellow Cuban star Tito Puente resulted in some of the biggest successes of her career. The two recorded albums and regularly performed together, and were considered to be legends of the genre.
Cruz was also a member of the Fania all-Stars, the Afro-Cuban music collective that recorded for the Fania record label in the 70s, along with Blades and Willie Colon. She dazzled listeners with fiery songs such as Quimbara.
Her personality, like her voice, was dramatic. Always flashing a wide smile, the entertainer gave a highly energetic show, often punctuated by her trademark shout, "Azucar!" in the middle of a song.
The word, which means sugar in Spanish, became her catchphrase after a waiter asked her, to her surprise, whether she wanted sugar in her coffee.
"With Celia, even the most simple of songs became injected with her personality and her vigour," said Blades.
"I don't think you could hear anything she ever did and be indifferent."
Cruz recorded more than 70 albums, and boasted more than a dozen Grammy nominations. She won best salsa album for La Negra Tiene Tumbao at last year's Latin Grammy Awards, and won the same award at this year's Grammy Awards.
The city of Miami gave Calle Ocho, the main street of its Cuban community, the honorary name of Celia Cruz Way. She received a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian Institution and, in 1994, the former US president, Bill Clinton, honoured with an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Recording Academy and Latin Recording Academy issued a statement that read: "One of Latin music's most respected and most revered vocalists, Celia Cruz was an icon of salsa, tropical and Latin jazz music ... Thank you, Celia, for teaching all of us that life should be lived with much 'Azucar!"'
Puerto Rican singer India said: "We are suffering because, more than anything, we're going to miss her."