Obituaries

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.


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