Graciela Pérez Gutiérrez of Machito and his Afro-Cubans, the orchestra that created Latin Jazz in 1940s NYC, was born in Jesús María, Havana, Cuba on August 23, 1915. We always thought she was Graciela Grillo, but her name was Graciela Pérez Gutiérrez.
Machito and His Afro-Cubans were one of the Palladium Ballroom’s “Big Three” with Tito Puente and Tito Rodríguez. The Palladium was one of the places where Jazz and Latin Jazz mixed back together and Latin dancing entered American popular culture. The Palladium was the home of the 1950s Mambo Craze that brought Latin music into American living rooms and nightclubs.
Machito’s music director Mario Bauzá arranged the first modern Latin Jazz song, “Tanga” in 1940s New York City. It was an important time in Jazz. At the same time that Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and others were creating Bebop (Modern Jazz) uptown in Harlem, Machito and Bauzá were creating Cubop (Latin Jazz) in East Harlem and The Bronx.
Before Machito left the band to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II, Bauzá called Graciela to New York. She took over lead vocals and kept the band going during the war.
So Graciela was one of the women present at the birth of Latin Jazz. She helped pave the way for female Latin singers who followed.
Some of Graciela’s most famous songs are naughty in that sweet Caribbean way. “Ay José…” 😂. The video isn’t very clear, but there aren’t many videos of Graciela.
Graciela died in New York City in 2010.
Graciela, 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. Ay Graciela.