Machito played a huge role in the history of Latin jazz. His bands of the 1940s, especially the band named the Afro-Cubans, were among the first to fuse Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz improvisation. Machito was the front man, singer, conductor, and maraca player of the Afro-Cubans and its successors. Machito's brother-in-law Mario Bauza, the musical director, influenced Machito to hire jazz-oriented arrangers.
The son of a cigar manufacturer, Machito became a professional musician in Cuba in his teens before he emigrated to America in 1937 as a vocalist with La Estrella Habanera. He worked with several Latin artists and orchestras in the late '30s, recording with the then-dominant Latin bandleader Xavier Cugat. After an earlier, aborted attempt to launch a band with Bauza, Machito founded the Afro-Cubans in 1940, taking on Bauza the following year as music director where he remained for 35 years. Machito's son Mario Grillo later took over the position.
Machito died during a concert in London, England in 1984, suffering a fatal stroke while playing Ronnie Scott's club. A documentary film by Carlo Ortiz, Machito: A Latin Jazz Legacy, was released in 1987.