- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — Taking her final ride in a horse-drawn carriage piled high with flowers, “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz was hailed yesterday in a funeral tribute both raucous and reverent.

It was “un ultimo adios” — the final goodbye — to the Grammy-winning Miss Cruz, with thousands of devotees of the Cuban-born singer clutching photos, waving flags, singing and dancing on an afternoon interrupted by thunderstorms.

Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the crowd of more than 2,000 included Miss Cruz’s husband of 41 years, trumpeter Pedro Knight; Mayor Michael Bloomberg; actor Antonio Banderas and wife Melanie Griffith; singer Jon Secada; and singer-actor Ruben Blades.

“From heaven, you will continue to be sugar,” said Auxiliary Bishop Josu Iriondo, addressing the crowd in Spanish as Mr. Banderas interpreted for his wife. “Like good sugar, you will live melted in the coffee of your people.”

Miss Cruz’s trademark was shouting “azucar” during her performances — Spanish for “sugar.”

After the funeral Mass, Miss Cruz was to be buried in a private ceremony at the 140-year-old Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, joining musical greats Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

Umbrella-toting throngs jostled for a look at the funeral carriage, pulled down Fifth Avenue by twin white horses and topped with purple and white flowers. The procession included black limousines overflowing with floral arrangements and a statue of Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba. One of the floral arrangements was in the shape of a large Cuban flag.

Miss Cruz, 78, died July 16 of a brain tumor in her Fort Lee, N.J., home.

Miss Cruz left Cuba after the 1959 revolution and often said she would love to return — when Fidel Castro no longer was in power.

White-gloved police officers provided an honor guard as Miss Cruz’s coffin, draped in the Cuban flag, was brought up the cathedral steps.

“This is a legend that the world has lost, and no one will take her place,” said Soraya Alvarez, who staked out a spot near the cathedral at 7 a.m.

Fans also waved the flags of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti — claiming the singer as their own. “I came here to pay tribute to a great queen,” said Jacqueline Phillpotts, waving a Haitian flag.

Some began gathering at an Upper East Side funeral home nine hours before Miss Cruz’s funeral cortege took the mile-long trip downtown. Angel Reyes, of the Bronx, said her music had provided a soundtrack for his life.

“When you hear her music, it’s good and bad,” Mr. Reyes said. “It’s bad because she’s gone. It’s a good feeling because you feel it in your soul.”

The celebrity-studded funeral capped a week of mass mourning, including public viewings in Miami and Manhattan that drew tens of thousands of fans.

Crowds in Manhattan were so thick on Monday that police shut down a stretch of streets.

Gov. George E. Pataki proclaimed “Celia Cruz Day” across the state to celebrate her “extraordinary accomplishments, talent and grace.”

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