Chavela Vargas, the legendary Mexican Ranchera singer, has passed away at a hospital in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Today, the Latin music world remembers the career and life of an artist who defied traditional stereotypes in Mexican music. Chavela Vargas was, in fact, one of those artists whose influence covered much more than music. As stated by the Spanish singer and songwriter Joaquin Sabina, one of her good friends, Chavela Vargas "did not sell a voice but rather a style."
Musically speaking, she became famous for the way she captured the essence of traditional Ranchera songs with her unique voice. Carlos Monsivais, the Mexican essayist, described this ability saying that Chavela Vargas was able to "express the desolation of the rancheras with the radical nakedness of the Blues." Some of her most enduring songs include tracks such as "La Llorona," "Paloma Negra" and "Piensa En Mi."
At the personal level, Chavela Vargas challenged the standards of the traditional Mexican music scene by wearing men's clothes, carrying out pistols, and drinking and smoking heavily. She also joined Mexico's bohemian crowd becoming friends with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and the Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca. Her affairs with women were well known but she only admitted her lesbianism when she was 81 after publishing her autobiography Y Si Quieres Saber De Mi Pasado.
In the full sense of the word, Chavela Vargas was a free spirit. She sang Ranchera music with the same honesty and intensity she lived her life. She challenged society by being true to herself and in the process became a very successful artist. The Latin music world mourns Chavela Vargas and celebrates the transcendence she just achieved. R.I.P.
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