Born on August 23, 1915, Graciela Peréz Grillo was raised in a musical environment; her foster brother, Frank Grillo, became better known as Machito, and just across the street from the family home in Havana lived Mongo Santamaría. She first sang professionally in the late '20s, and among the bands with which she worked were those fronted by Maria Teresa Vera, who was a family friend, and Ignacio Piñeiro. In addition to singing, Graciela -- who would become known as a performer by her given name without her surname attached -- also played maracas and claves, and it was largely as a percussionist and backing singer that she joined Orquesta Anacaona, an an all-female band formed in 1932 by the Castro Sisters.
Soon, though, Graciela began to make her mark and attracted attention with her performances of son and especially the mambo during the mambo craze, as she performed with the bands of Machito and Mario Bauzá, both of which were among the form’s leading exponents -- her hits included "Si, Si, No, No, ¡Ay José!" A resident in New York City for many years, Graciela didn't allow age to slow her down. The Candido & Graciela album Inolvidable, recorded when the singer was 88, was nominated for a 2004 Grammy Award. She also received an International Latín Music Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award. At 90 Graciela was still singing, but at the age of 94 she died of renal and pulmonary failure in Manhattan on April 7, 2010.