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.