Portrait of a Woman

Art by Rob Goldstein



Gabino Barreras
Chavela Vargas:
Corridos de la Revolución
Community Audio



11 thoughts on “Portrait of a Woman

    1. Chevalia Vargas is an interesting woman. To begin with she sang Ranchera which was only sung my men. In 1930’s Mexico she was openly gay.

      This short bio is from a 2012 New Yorker profile:

      Majestic and beautiful until the very end of her life, she compiled an amorous résumé that ranks among the most distinguished in the history of twentieth-century lesbianism. “I live only for you and Diego,” Frida Kahlo told her. She had an affair with the magnate and collector Dolores Olmedo; rumor linked her to fellow-divas Lola Beltrán and María Félix; and then, she told me in Costa Rica, she had lived a great passion with “the most famous woman in the world.” She refused to elaborate—the mystery (Taylor?) remains for future biographers.

      The darker stories were as notorious. The queen of the bohemians of the Plaza Garibaldi, the traditional center of Mexican music, Vargas saw her life almost destroyed by drink; she consumed it such quantities that she later joked that there was no decent tequila left in Mexico—she and the songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez, another musical legend, had polished it all off. Jiménez died from cirrhosis, in 1973, and Chavela’s own alcoholism was so devastating that she disappeared entirely for more than fifteen years. Friends assumed that she had died. “If anyone goes to Mexico,” the famous Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa reportedly said, “place a rose for me on Chavela Vargas’s tomb.”

      She attributed her pain to her terrible upbringing in Costa Rica, where, as a child in San Joaquín, she was tormented for her sexuality (“What hurts isn’t being homosexual,” she said, “it’s that people throw it in your face as if it were a plague”), and to her early struggles in Mexico, where she arrived as a teen-ager. She claimed that she had sold some chickens to pay for the bus fare. She sang in cantinas for years, until Jiménez discovered her on a corner of the Avenida Insurgentes. This time, the myth suggests a pedigree: Edith Piaf, after all, had been discovered singing on a street in Pigalle.

      The New Yorker

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wow, Robert, thank you for all of these insights. I did not know about her at all. What a fight her life must have been. It is so sad and should again make people think and change their thinking. Thank you for introducing me to her.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re welcome Erika! She was born in Costa Rica but she became a Mexican national. From Wikipedia:

        ” In her youth, she dressed as a man, smoked cigars, drank heavily, carried a gun, and was known for her characteristic red jorongo, which she donned in performances until old. Vargas sang the canción ranchera, which she performed in her own peculiar style. The typical ranchera, as represented by José Alfredo Jiménez, was a masculine but emotional song about love and its mishaps, usually mediated by alcohol, since in a macho culture, the display of feelings by men is allowed only to the drunk. The ranchera is sung from a man’s perspective and with a mariachi accompaniment. Chavela sang this type of song as a solo, using only guitar and voice, evoking the singing style of a drunk man. She often slowed down the tempo of melodies to draw more dramatic tension out of songs, so they could be taken as naughtily humorous.

        Towards the end of the 1950s, she became known within artistic circles, due in part to her performances in Acapulco, center of international tourism, where she sang at the Champagne Room of the restaurant La Perla. Her first album, Noche de Bohemia (Bohemian Night), was released in 1961 with the professional support of José Alfredo Jiménez, one of the foremost singer/songwriters of Mexican ranchera music. She eventually recorded more than 80 albums.Vargas was hugely successful during the 1950s, the 1960s, and the first half of the 1970s, touring in Mexico, the United States, France, and Spain and was close to many prominent artists and intellectuals of the time, including Juan Rulfo, Agustín Lara, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Dolores Olmedo and José Alfredo Jiménez.

        I’m glad that you enjoyed the post.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Wow, 80 albums and I never heard of her. What a shame. Thanks to you that changed! Thank you very much for providing all this information, Robert! I appreciate your effort very much.

        Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.