Afro-Cuban singer Pérez Grillo dies in NYC at 94

Graciela Pérez Grillo, an Afro-Cuban music pioneer who got her start playing bass and singing with the all female Orquestra Anacaona, has died, her representative said Wednesday. She was 94. Pérez Grillo died of natural causes Tuesday at the Cornell Medical Center in New York, where she had been hospitalized for some time, according to her agent Richie Viera.

Also known as the “First Lady of Latin Jazz,” Perez Grillo was born on Aug. 23, 1915, in the Jesús María neighborhood of Havana, Cuba. She moved to New York in 1942 to sing with her stepbrother Machito’s Afro-Cuban orchestra and later sang with her brother-in-law Mario Bauzá. Her best known songs included “Esta es Graciela” (This is Graciela), “Intimo y sentimental” (Intimate and Sentimental), and “Yo soy así” (That’s the Way I Am).

On his Facebook page, salsa singer Willie Colón called Pérez Grillo’s death “very sad news.” Cuban percussionist Cándido Camero, who recorded with her on the 2006 record “Inolvidable, Cándido & Graciela,” told Miami’s El Nuevo Herald that it would be difficult to replace her. “I don’t believe that anyone could take the place of the Queen of Afro-Cuban Jazz, my friend, my sister, Graciela Pérez,” Cándido was quoted as saying on the newspaper’s web site. Cuban film maker and theater director Iván Acosta also told El Nuevo Herald: “Graciela was one of the most brilliant divas that Cuba had to offer the world.”

Over the course of her lifetime, Pérez Grillo received various Grammy nominations.

She has no survivors and burial plans were not immediately available.

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