Afro-Cuban jazz pioneer Graciela Perez Grillo dies at age 94

Latin jazz legend Graciela Perez Grillo, often called the First Lady of Latin Jazz, passed away in New York City on Tuesday (Apr. 6) from natural causes, after a long history of health problems.

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1915 Grillo, who was known simply as Graciela, started her career with Orquestra Anacaona. She found fame when she moved to New York in 1942 and began playing bass and singing with the Afro-Cuban orchestra led by her stepbrother Machito, who himself played a huge role in the history of Latin jazz.

Machito and Graciela
Afro-Cuban jazz legend Graciela Perez Grillo, pictured above preforming with her brother Machito in the 1940s, passed away at the age of 94 in New York.

She earned numerous Grammy Award nominations throughout her career. Cuban film-maker and theatre director Ivan AcostaI tells Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald that Graciela was “one of the most brilliant divas that Cuba had to offer the world.” Percussionist Candido Camero, who played on her 2006 record Inolvidable, Candido & Graciela, adds: “I don’t believe that anyone could take the place of the Queen of Afro-Cuban Jazz, my friend, my sister, Graciela Perez.”

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