Graciela Grillo of Machito and his Afro-Cubans, the orchestra that created modern Latin jazz, was born in Jesús María, Havana, Cuba on August 23, 1915.
Machito’s music director Mario Bauzá arranged the first modern Latin jazz song “Tanga.”
Machito and His Afro-Cubans were one of the Palladium Ballroom’s “Big Three” with Tito Puente and Tito Rodríguez. The Palladium is one of the places where jazz and Latin jazz mixed back together.
Before Machito left the band to serve in the U.S. Army, Bauzá called Graciela to New York. She took over lead vocals. She is one of the women who paved the way for female Latin singers who followed.
Some of Graciela’s most famous songs are naughty in the Caribbean way. “Ay José…” 😂. In the video, listen to her sweet cantaleta (little song of complaint). Look at how soft and smooth the dancers are. It’s so different from how New Yorkers dance salsa today. You can still see dancing like that in Loíza, Puerto Rico.
Graciela died in New York City in 2010.
Graciela Grillo, Porfa Otra Vez
New Yorker Cita Rodriguez, the daughter of FANIA All-Star Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, is really good at channeling Graciela. She sometimes plays with the Afro-Cuban old-timers. If you get the chance, don’t miss it.