FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Memorial and 95th birthday celebration for Graciela
to be held Monday, August 23rd, 2010 at Saint Peter’s Church (The Jazz Church)
54th Street and Lexington Avenue -
doors open at 6:00, memorial starts at 7:00 pm.
This memorial celebration is an opportunity for all us to pay homage
and respect to our First Lady of Afro-Cuban music. Featured in this
tribute will be Gracie’s godson, Arturo O’Farrill, conducting the
Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, Ray Santos, David Oquendo &
Raices Habaneras, Rene Lopez, Xiomara Laugart, Las Hermanas Marquez,
Andy Gonzalez, Steve Turre, Chocolate Armenteros, Dr. Martha
Moreno-Vega, Paquito D’Rivera, and others.
** This tribute is made possible by the generosity of Bronx Lebanon
Hospital and Robert Sancho.
Originally released upon her passing: The Official Press Release from
Graciela, the legendary “First Lady of Afro-Cuban Jazz”, has passed at
the age of 94 at New York Cornell-Presbyterian Hospital in New York
City at 7:58 am, Wednesday, April 07, 2010.
A pioneer in music, as a black Cuban woman, in a ‘so-called man’s
world’ she opened doors for all those who followed her. She performed
around the world, recording and sharing the stage with her foster
brother Machito (Frank Grillo) and brother-in-law, Mario Bauzá
(originator of the genre Afro-Cuban Jazz) in the world renowned
orchestra “Machito and the Afro-Cubans.” Some of her biggest hits
include “Ay, José”, “Si, Si, No, No”, “Noche de Ronda”, and “Novio
Mio” among many others. Her storied career lasted 77 years long. She
died of renal and pulmonary failure with her dear friend and slave
Mappy Torres by her side. Her ‘big’ heart never gave out.
Graciela was primarily known for her tremendous voice, risqué and
sassy stage presence and sexy double entendre lyrics. She sang ‘jazzy’
guarachas as easily as handling the most romantic of boleros which she
could deconstruct like no other. She could sing it all, not just one
style or fashion like other singers, as many critics and musicologists
have mentioned. Graciela’s versatility and virtuosity were un-
matched. Though her last name was Pérez-Gutierrez, she was only known
by her one name moniker before it was fashionable to do so in more
Born in Havana ,Cuba in August 23, 1915, she was christened a “singer”
at age five by the trova singer/composer Maria Teresa Vera and taught
to sing by her older foster brother Machito. Graciela commenced her
career at 17 with the most popular of female orchestras “Anacaona”
which was comprised of 10 sisters from the Castro family back in 1933.
She traveled to New York, Paris, Latin America and the Caribbean with
them for 10 years. They made their recording debut with the RCA/Victor
label which traveled to Cuba to record several 78 records with them
between 1936 and 1937.
She was summoned to New York in 1943 by Mario Bauzá, when Machito was
drafted into the army. She joined the orchestra as lead singer until
Machito returned in 1944 and from then on the three shared the stage
together until their untimely split in 1975. For 32 years they were on
top of the charts and were the orchestra not only to beat, but to
emulate. Not only did they travel the USA and the rest of the world,
but they were leaders and reigned supreme during the heyday of the
Palladium (where blacks, whites, Jews, Italians and Latinos, and
celebrities would converge to dance), from 1946 until it’s closing.
Besides the Palladium, they would perform at the Royal Roost,
Birdland, the Park Palace, the Corso and the Apollo Theater on a
yearly week-long gig --and many other clubs and theatres in New York.
Graciela and the orchestra also performed on a yearly basis in
Hollywood-- specifically at the Crescendo nightclub. Graciela and the
band were also a favorite of the famous dee-jay ‘Symphony Sid’ who had
them on his weekly program several times a year, and was broadcast
coast to coast in the ‘1940’s and 50’s. They were also the summer
headliners in the Catskill resort hotel, the Concord, for more than 20
years. They recorded milestone albums, for several labels throughout
the years, including three of her solo releases “Esta es Graciela”,
“Intimo y Sentimental”, “Esa Soy Yo, Yo Soy Así”, plus others.
Respected and highly sought after by producers, composers and
arrangers for her versatility, phrasing, and emotive delivery she was
a favorite of Chico O’Farrill, Arsenio Rodríguez, José Antonio Mendez,
Agustin Lara, Rafael Solano, René Hernandez, Cesar Portillo de la Luz
and Mario Bauzá himself.
In the 1980’s and early 90’s Graciela was an integral part of Mario
Bauzá’s comeback and recorded several albums with him including his
last three Grammy nominated albums for Messidor records. Upon Mario’s
death in 1993, Graciela unofficially ‘retired’ but had been coaxed
back to the recording studio or the stage on special occasions,
including with trombonist Steve Turre on a fabulous rendition of “Ayer
lo ví Llorar”, “Oye Mi Rumba” on Chico O’Farrill’s last CD and also
dueted with percussionist Cándido Camero on the Grammy and Latin
Grammy nominated CD “Inovidable”. Her stage appearances, in recent
years, have been primarily in the tri-state area.
The last few years for Graciela has had a wave of long time well
deserved accolades from such organizations such as The International
Latin Music Hall of Fame (1999, 2001), Latin Grammy Lifetime
Achievement Award (2007) and a slew of other honors and accolades from
different organizations. Plus the United States government recognized
her service in entertaining the troops during World War II.
Most recently Graciela’s 93rd birthday was celebrated in Lincoln
Center’s Out of Doors festival along with the Caribbean Cultural
Center where over ten thousand people jammed Damorsch Park to wish her
well. Graciela performed five tunes for them to standing ovations.
Needless to say she was overjoyed with the love that the public
displayed for her. Since then she had been in the midst of recording a
CD, writing her memoirs and filming a documentary on her
groundbreaking, legendary life and career which spanned 77 years. Up
until the end she was always a trooper, strong willed forceful and
full of life.
Graciela was under excellent care at New York-Presbyterian Hospital
Weill Cornell Medical Center. In her final months, she was attended to
by the Cardiac Catheterization team of Dr. Bergman, Dr. Wong, and
staff for a specialized experimental valve procedure of the heart
which was a great success. Unfortunately, while in physical
rehabilitation, her other organs deteriorated. But her heart never
gave out. Graciela wanted to thank them by doing a benefit concert for
the Partners Trial of which she was a part of at New York-Presbyterian
Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center, the entire Cardiac Care team,
and all those that work in 4 North, 4 South and 10 North along with
dear friend Dr. Emilio Carrillo, vice-president Community Health
Development at the hospital and Dr. Erica Jones, cardiologist and
director of the Inpatient Telemetry Unit.
Graciela’s wishes were to be cremated and to celebrate her life and
not mourn her death. Details of her life’s celebration will be
released in the coming days. Dissemination of her ashes will be held
in private. Graciela leaves behind no immediate family and is
survived by only her dear friends and fans.
Graciela’s extraordinary career was also shared with such friends as
Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Miguelito Valdéz, Frank
Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Benny Carter and
many others. Though never married and not having children of her own
she never lacked love in her life and she had many great romances. She
was in deed very special woman.
*IMPORTANT: Graciela’s last name was Pérez-Gutierrez not Grillo.*
For additional information: Mappy Torres 917-532-7165 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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