Afro-Cuban singer Graciela Perez Grillo died Wednesday, April 7, 2010 in New York City at the age of 94. Ms. Perez Grillo had been ill and had been confined for several weeks to a New York hospital bed. Her cause of death was ruled as natural causes.
Born on August 23, 1915 in Havana, Cuba, Ms. Perez Grillo’s musical career took shape after she snagged a spot at the age of 17 with the all-female group Orquestra Anacaona playing clave and singing. In 1942, she moved to New York City and took up the lead vocalist position with the Afro-Cuban Machito Orchestra led by her stepbrother Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, better known as Machito. She also played with her brother-in-law Mario Bauza and recorded into her 90s with the 2006 release Inolvidable, Candido & Graciela with percussionist Cándido Camero.
Known as the First Lady of Latin Jazz or the Queen of Afro-Cuban Jazz, the impressively expressive vocalist is perhaps best remembered for her hits "Esta Es Graciela" and "Yo Soy Asi." Her pioneering spirit led the way for countless rising Latin women vocalists, the likes of which include Celia Cruz and La Lupe.
Ms. Perez Grillo was without any immediate surviving family members, but representative Richie Viera and assistants Avenol Franco and Maria Torres are mourning her loss.