Best Female Salsa Singers

Salsa has always been pretty much a man's musical genre. When Celia Cruz started performing with Sonora Matancera, musical producers were sure that the red hot music, sung by a woman, would not sell.

Celia proved them wrong and, over the next 4 decades, went on to claim the title of the 'Queen of Salsa.' But with her death in 2003, no other woman has come forward to claim the crown.

While there are female artists who have made, and continue to make, significant contributions to the genre, not one of them stands out as #1.

So here's a list of the obvious and not so obvious salsa divas on the scene today.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan And Miami Sound Machine: A Benefit Concert for Viva Broadway
WireImage / Getty Images

There was a time that Gloria Estefan seemed a likely successor to Celia Cruz. She has the music, the moves and the same type of popularity. But Estefan spends a lot of time on Latin pop and much of the world identifies her with both Spanish and English pop tunes rather than salsa.

Even though she continues to record brilliant tropical albums like 2007's 90 Millas, she has basically announced that she has retired from touring and concertizing, if not totally from recording.

La India

La India
La India. Paul Hawthorne /Getty Images

La India (Linda Viera Caballero) has been called the 'Princess of Salsa' but will she ever move on to become the queen?

Although born in Puerto Rico, India grew up in New York City, the birthplace of salsa. She started out singing house music and hip hop until she met Eddie Palmieri and turned to salsa at a time when the music seemed to be making a comeback. Her first salsa album was Llego la India in 1992 and she soon gained both a name and a following.

But we haven't heard much from her since her last studio album Soy Diferente in 2006. She is due to release a new album in 2009. But will it be salsa?

And will it be too little, too late for the title?

Olga Tanon

Olga Tanon
Olga Tanon. Paul Hawthorne /Getty Images

Puerto Rico's Olga Tanon is a dynamo; there's a reason they call her a 'woman on fire.' She has the style, the voice, the energy to be queen of just about any musical genre she chooses.

But, although she does perform salsa, the music she chooses is generally merengue and is commonly considered to hold the crown to that genre.

So, there's just not enough salsa in her repetoire to warrant any sort of title. Plus, with all the talented female performers out there, two titles just seems greedy.

Brenda K. Starr

Brenda K. Starr
Brenda K. Starr. David Friedman /Getty Images

For awhile, Brenda K. Starr seemed to be on track to become a salsa diva. Born in New York, she's half-Puerto Rican and started out singing dancehall and pop music in the 1980s. When her popularity started to pale in the 1990s, Starr turned to tropical music which gave her quite a name in salsa in the late 1990s/early 2000s.

But whether it's because she had to learn Spanish in order to perform in the genre or because her heart is really in other types of music, she just doesn't have enough going for her to reach for the crown.


Cuban-born Albita really should have a shot at being salsa royalty. Both her music, her voice and her outrageous onstage performances are highly reminiscent of the style that made Cruz so popular. She keeps making teriffic tropical albums and performs on stage with, if not frequent regularity, then often enough to keep her in the public eye.

Somehow, though, Albita does not seem to have captured the public imagination in any significant manner. So, even if Albita has all the ingredients to become the queen, she doesn't seem to have the popularity of a Cruz, a necessary component for the title.

Choco Orta

Choco Orta
Choco Orta. Musical Productions

Choco Orta may come from the home of reggaeton, Santurce, Puerto Rico, but she is a sonera devoted to salsa. With a style similar to that of Cruz, she has recorded with some of the greats: Salsa Fever, Willie Rosario, Andy Montanez, La India and many others.

Right now, the biggest obstacle for Choco Orta is name recognition. Although she's known in tight salsa circles, she's going to need to garner a larger audience before she can step up to the throne.

Her latest album, 2009's Ahora Mismo..Choco Orta was produced by Gilberto Santa Rosa, so she certainly has the backing of the right people. Perhaps this latest album will give her the visibility she's lacking.

We'll have to wait and see.

Cecilia Noel

A salsa singer with Peruvian roots? Well, why not when salsa is popular in almost all of Latin America. Cecilia Noel now makes her home in Los Angeles and her 2009 album A Gozar! really caught my attention. There's lots of talent there and some serious salsa, although Noel calls her sound 'Salsoul' and mixes it up with a little soul, jazz, funk.

Still, it will be interesting to see where Noel goes with this music and whether she can gain well-deserved popularity outside of the West Coast.

Carolina La O

Carolina La O
Carolina La O. Warner Music Latina

One of the best places for salsa in the world is Colombia, and Carolina La O (Carolina Arango) immediately grabs a salsa fan with her stage name, which must be a play on the classic salsa song performed by Pete 'El Conde' Rodriguez, "Catalina La O."

Carolina has impeccable salsa credentials, performing with Alquimia until 1999 when she went solo. Her 2009 album, Reencuentro Con Los Gemelos is already a hit in Latin America.

But, even though she has enough talent to be a contender, both Carolina and Colombian salsa need to become better known globally before there's a chance at a crown.

Xiomara Laugart

Xiomara Lourgart
Xiomara Lourgart. Courtesy Augusto Salinas

New York-based Cuban artist Xiomara Laugart should be a contender for the crown for a couple of reasons. First, she has a fantastic voice and great stage presence. Second, she was chosen to play Celia Cruz in the off-Broadway musical, Celia, The Musical so I'm not the only one that thinks she's got something special going.

But - the ex-Yerba Buena artist started out singing in Cuba in the Nueva Trova movement, Yerba Buena's music was Latin funk and her first solo album, Xiomara was a jazz album.

It seems to me the lady is just not that interested in salsa once off the stage.



I have to admit that I've added Yoko more as a novelty and to round out the list to a neat ten entries.

Yoko has been gaining the attention of salsa fans lately but I have to believe that the reason is because she's a novelty: a salsa singer from Osaka, Japan.

Yoko released her 2009 album La Japonesa Salsera and has been singing with Chico Nunez and Friends since she moved to the U.S. in 1997. And while it's exciting to see that the popularity of salsa is global, I don't really believe that Yoko will be any threat to the other artists on this list.

But then, you never know.