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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 10 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 32
Chavela Vargas, Latina Lesbian singer, dies at 93
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Chavela Vargas, Latina Lesbian singer, dies at 93

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Chavela Vargas, an open Lesbian who defied gender stereotypes and still became one of Mexico's most famous ranchera singers, died August 5. She was 93.

According to her friend and biographer, Maria Cortina, Vargas died at a hospital in Cuernavaca, where she had been admitted for heart and respiratory problems.

Thousands of people turned out for her funeral in Mexico City on August 6. Vargas' coffin was on display in Plaza Garibaldi, where she liked to drink. The coffin was draped with Vargas' trademark red poncho.

According to CNN, mourners wept openly, sang her songs, and drank tequila, her favorite beverage.

'Not even the rain forced people to stop singing as they approached the coffin covered in [Vargas'] typical red poncho,' Cortina said.

'I never thought Chavela would die and when she died I was deeply saddened. But, today, I proved that Chavela will never die and I am comforted.'

CROSSING BOUNDARIES
Vargas was born in San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica, on April 17, 1919, and emigrated to Mexico at age 14. She sang in the streets as a teenager, becoming a professional singer only when she was well into her thirties.

As a young woman, Vargas liked to wear men's clothes, including the red poncho, which became her trademark. She also smoked cigars, drank heavily, and carried a pistol to her performances.

'I was never afraid of anything because I never hurt anyone,' Vargas told the audience at a Mexico City tribute concert in June 2011. 'I was always an old drunk.'

Vargas recorded more than 80 albums, becoming a major figure in Mexico City's mid-20th century music scene. She was honored as a 'distinguished citizen' of Mexico City and was awarded Spain's Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic. In 2007 the Latin Recording Academy gave her its lifetime achievement award.

Although her favorite genre was ranchera, a folk tradition with origins in the Mexican Revolution, she performed in a number of styles.

Vargas was never secretive about her affairs with women, but she never publicly acknowledged that she was a Lesbian until she published her autobiography, Y Si Quieres Saber de Mi Pasado ('If You Want to Know About My Past') at age 81.

A STORIED LIFE
Although she had little formal education, Vargas was a friend of many of Mexico's most prominent intellectuals. She was a frequent houseguest of painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and was rumored to have had an affair with Kahlo.

Vargas was also close to the Spanish Gay poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was murdered by fascist troops during the Spanish Civil War. Last year she released a new album of Lorca's poems and songs.

Vargas also became close friends with filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, who featured her music in many of his films.

'I don't think there is a stage big enough in this world for Chavela,' Almodovar once wrote.

She also appeared in Julie Taymor's 2002 film Frida, about her old friend, singing the eerie song 'La Llorona,' ('The Weeper') in a hoarse but haunting voice.

Characteristically, she wrote her own epitaph.

'Each of you remember me as you like, each one say what they feel and what they lived with me,' she said. 'I ask God that wherever I am going, someday, you will come to greet me, and I will greet all of you.'

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