Chavela Vargas, 1919-2012

The great ranchera songstress Chavela Vargas has died. She was born in Costa Rica, and became one of the most timeless interpreters of what was, and is, a predominantly masculine music genre. She came out as a lesbian at age 80. She was 93 when she died. An LA Times obit is here.

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.

A few radio stories: Tell me More, Morning Edition, The World.


  1. I had read that she had a Carnegie Hall concert in ’02 (I think that was the year) and found the CD of it a few years ago. The Carnegie crowd really goes wild for her, especially when she sings “Volver.” They talk to her, sing with her. They know all her songs. Even at 82 her tired  voice was indomitable. She was definitely a rarity.   Rest in Peace.

  2. ” a predominantly masculine music genre…” is a completely false statement. Lucha Reyes, Amalia Mendoza, Lola Beltran and even Spanish born Rocio Durcal have been GREAT female ranchera singers, Chavela Vargas, while good, was not, by far, the best  (or the craziest).

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