Legendary Mexican singer Chavela Vargas died August 5 at a hospital as a result of respiratory problems in Cuemavaca, Mexico at the age of 93.
Vargas defied the stereotypical gender roles in the Catholic country. She wore men’s clothing and sang “lusty ranchera” songs. She drank heavily, smoked cigars, and carried a pistol.
Vargas was born Isabel Vargas Lizano April 17,1919 in San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica; moving to Mexico as a teen. She began her musical career by singing in the streets before becoming a professional singer. Over the course of her career, Vargas recorded 80 albums – the last of which was recorded after she turned 90 - and was considered a major figure in Mexico City’s artistic explosion. She appeared in the movie “Frida”, about, singing in a haunting voice.
Vargas never changed the pronouns in the songs she sang, nor did she publicly “come out” until her autobiography – “Y si quieres saber de mi pasado” (“If You Want to Know About My Past”) –, which was penned when she was 81. Speaking once on her voice, Vargas said, "I've always had the same voice," she said. "I don't need machines to help me sing. I sing because I sing. And I sing truthfully. Nothing interferes.”
In 2007, the Latin Grammy Recording Academy presented Vargas with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Vargas was awarded as the Distinguished Citizen of Mexico City and presented the Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic in Spain. Vargas was 83 when she made her debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City.