She started her career by working in radio in the 1940s but began to work with smaller groups in the 1950s. In 1952, pianist and arranger Aida Diestro organized the vocal quartet called Cuarteto d'Aida. The original members were Elena Burke, Moraima Secada, Omara Portuondo and Haydée Portuondo. After she got some attention, she went solo. By the time of the Cuban Revolution she was a top solo artist performing in elegant cabarets in Havana. Her voice seemed to become stronger with age, as her subtle yet sophisticated technique graced every song she sang with an emotional weight. Over the years she has performed with top Cuban dance bands such as Orquesta Aragón and with highly acclaimed singer-songwriters, including Pablo Milanés. She certainly could "take a sad song and make it better", piercing the emotional veil of her audience with an almost palpable sincerity. Though she mostly interpreted classic Cuban boleros and Son, her versions were distinct, supported by top-notch musicians and arrangements. She is the mother of Malena Burke and grandmother of Lena, also well known Cuban singers.