Graciela Perez Grillo dies at 94; Afro-Cuban musician

Staff And Wire Reports

Graciela Perez Grillo, an Afro-Cuban music pioneer who was known as the First Lady of Latin Jazz, has died. She was 94.

Graciela, as she was known professionally, died April 6 of natural causes at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, where she had been hospitalized for some time, according to her representative, Richie Viera.

“She was almost the last of those great musicians who came here from Cuba in the 1940s and early 1950s,” WSKQ-FM (97.9) radio host Polito Vega told the New York Daily News. “She was one of the great salsa and bolero singers of Latin America.”

Graciela was born Aug. 23, 1915, in the Jesus Maria neighborhood of Havana. She began playing bass and singing with a girl band in Havana in 1933 before moving to New York in the early 1940s.

She was best known for singing with her brother Machito, whose real name was Frank Grillo, and trumpeter Mario Bauza. Machito formed his Afro-Cuban Orchestra in 1940 and Bauza became the musical director.

Graciela came to New York to fill in for Machito when he was drafted into the Army. When he returned to the band, she remained.

“Someone asked me if I sang boleros well because I was in love,” she told New York Newsday in 2008. “Well, that wasn’t it. A bolero is a poem. You can’t sing it fast, you have to give it time. Mario said, ‘Try to infuse each beat with things that you feel.’ ”

Her best-known albums include “Esta es Graciela” (This is Graciela) and “Intimo y Sentimental” (Intimate and Sentimental).

Graciela had no immediate survivors.