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Pedro Knight, 85; musical director for Celia Cruz

February 06, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Pedro Knight, a former lead trumpet player for Cuba's legendary band La Sonora Matancera and the devoted husband of the late "Queen of Salsa" Celia Cruz, whose career he helped guide, has died. He was 85.

Knight died Saturday at Methodist Hospital in Arcadia, hospital spokesman Tony Yang said.

Although the cause of death was not given, Knight had suffered from complications of diabetes and had a series of strokes last year.

His health reportedly had declined drastically since the Grammy-winning Cruz, his wife of 41 years, died of a brain tumor in 2003 at age 77.

Knight and Cruz met in Havana in 1950 when she replaced the lead singer in La Sonora Matancera, one of the island's most popular bands.

They became good friends immediately, Knight told the Miami Herald in 2004, "but there was nothing more."

He waited 12 years before he told her how he felt about her, he said, and when he did "she didn't want anything to do with me. She said musicians had too many women and she didn't want to suffer. And, well, it was true. I had a lot of women.

"But I told her that if she would have me, she could leave that problem to me. It took some convincing, but finally she said yes. And I stopped seeing all the women ... because Celia was the most special woman in the world. There was a refinement about her."

Cruz and Knight left Cuba in 1960, a year after Fidel Castro came to power.

After performing with the band in Mexico, they moved to the United States. Married in 1962, Knight and Cruz were inseparable.

The gentlemanly Knight became Cruz's musical director in the late 1960s and always appeared with her on stage, opened doors for her, took her hand when they crossed the street and even accompanied her when she went for a manicure.

For her part, Cruz cooked for him at their home in Fort Lee, N.J., packed his bags when they traveled and, as they aged, tended to his diet and healthcare. She called the dapper, white-haired Knight, who sported mutton-chop sideburns, "cabecita de algodon," her little cotton head.

After Cruz's death, Knight moved from Fort Lee to the Los Angeles-area home of close family friend Luis Falcon, who reportedly was like a son to Cruz and Knight. The couple did not have children together, but Knight had children before his marriage to Cruz.

Omer Pardillo, an executor of Cruz's estate, recently filed a suit against co-executor Falcon, accusing him of spending money intended for Knight. The lawsuit, according to an Associated Press report, also alleged that Falcon was exercising improper influence over Knight, who was suffering from dementia. A hearing had been scheduled for Friday in a New Jersey courtroom.

Knight reportedly never got over the loss of his wife.

"After we got married, there was never another woman," he told the Miami Herald in 2004. "There is no woman who could take her place. Even now. I will be with her until the day I die."

He is survived by his daughter, Ernestina Knight of Tampa, Fla.; and four children in Cuba, Pedro, Roberto, Emilia and Gladys.

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