Chavela Vargas, Mexico's 'rough voice of tenderness' was 93

Just your average cigar-smoking, tequila-swigging, pistol-packing lesbian Mexican ranchera singer who may have had a love affair with Frida Kahlo.

Isabel Vargas Lizano, born in Costa Rica, "defiantly shattered gender stereotypes and blazed a legendary path through 20th century Mexican popular culture," says one of the news obits circulating today, this one by Richard Fausset in the Los Angeles Times. PRI's The World aired a nice piece talking with a Mexican journalist who attended Vargas' emotional final tribute concert.

She made scores of records and performed in 1993 at Carnegia Hall. Embraced in the second half of her life by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, she made a new generation of fans. She sang her iconic version of La Llorona in the film "Frida," starring Salma Hayek. The song provides the backdrop to the scene of the 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky. Check out the video clip above.

Though Vargas experienced her first flush of fame in the mid-20th century — with an outlaw image she cultivated by wearing men's clothing, packing a pistol and knocking back copious quantities of tequila — she enjoyed a second round of admiration that was perhaps even more intense beginning in the 1990s, with a rediscovery fueled in great part by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, who championed her music for a new generation and included it in some of his films.

It was Almodovar who perhaps best described Vargas' chosen instrument as "la voz aspera de la ternura" — the rough voice of tenderness.

Vargas died Sunday at the Hospital Inovamed in Cuernavaca.

More by Kevin Roderick:
Garcetti will get to name a new head of DWP
Former Variety tower gets new tenant and name
Morning Buzz: Thursday 1.9.14
Gustavo Arellano and Lalo Alcaraz go Hollywood
Thomas V. Jones, LA aerospace giant was 93
Recent Obituaries stories on LA Observed:
Thomas V. Jones, LA aerospace giant was 93
Phil Everly, musical brother was 74 (video) *
Susan Rasky, journalist and mentor at Berkeley was 61 *
John Dominis, one of the great Life photographers was 92
Mike O'Connor, reporter and advocate for Mexico's journalists was 67 *

New at LA Observed
Follow us on Twitter

On the Media Page
Go to Media
On the Politics Page
Go to Politics

LA Biz Observed
Arts and culture

Sign up for daily email from LA Observed

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

LA Observed on Twitter and Facebook