Born in Havana, Cuba, Machito worked as a singer from an early age. In 1937 he came to New York as the singer for La Estrella Habanera and went on to work with several New York-based Latin bands, including those of Noro Morales and Xavier Cougat.
In 1940 he formed his own band, Machito and his Afro-Cubans, and a year later hired his brother-in-law, Mario Bauzá, as musical director. Under Bauzá’s direction, Machito and his Afro-Cubans created a unique fusion of jazz harmonies with Afro-Cuban rhythms and forms, as exemplfied by hit songs like Barababatiri and Nagüe.
Famous musicians who did a stint in Machito’s band included singer Miguelito Valdés and percussionist Tito Puente. Machito’s sister, Graciela, also joined the band as a singer in the 1940s.
During the peak of the mambo’s popularity in the 1950s, Machito’s band was in high demand, playing regularly at the Palladium Ballroom and other venues in New York. After the mambo's popularity waned in the 1960s, Machito and his Afro-Cubans became more of a repertory band, known for Latin jazz.
Machito died of a stroke during a London concert in 1984, but the band was revived under the direction of his son, Mario Grillo. He renamed the orchestra Machito's Orchestra and continues to perform today.