Chavela Vargas: Putting The Fight In Music

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Chavela Vargas was a hard-living, feisty singer from Costa Rica who won fame for defying gender stereotypes in the male-dominated world of Ranchero music. She died on Sunday at age 93. Host Michel Martin looks back on Vargas' life and legacy.


Switching gears now, the world of music lost an important voice from Central America on Sunday. Chavela Vargas, a hard living, artistically daring singer from Costa Rica who made Mexico her home, died at the age of 93.

CHAVELA VARGAS: (Singing in foreign language).

MARTIN: She will be remembered for songs like "Macorina" about a tragic high society Cuban prostitute, but she also made her mark through her personal choices and personal style, challenging the male dominated world of ranchero music. She wore men's clothes, made no secret of her fondness for strong drink and cigars until her lifestyle started to affect her performance, as she told NPR in an interview in 2010. Here she is speaking through a translator.

VARGAS: (Through translator) Back then, when I was drinking, the drinking affected my throat. The drinking affected my life, everything.

MARTIN: Although she adopted a gender-bending personal persona and had public relationships with women, she did not come out officially as a lesbian until the age of 81 in her autobiography. She said it was not easy to be a lesbian in 1950s Mexico.

VARGAS: (Through translator) I had to fight against so many things, fight against the current, as they say. I had to fight all of them to make something of myself, to triumph.

MARTIN: She did so by putting that fight into her music in songs like "Paloma Negra," or "Black Dove," where she accuses a woman of partying too much and breaking her heart. Chavela Vargas died Sunday in Mexico City at the age of 93.

VARGAS: (Singing in foreign language).

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