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Chavela Vargas

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Chavela Vargas


A cross-dressing lesbian who ruled Mexico's ranchera stages in the 1950s and '60s, Chavela Vargas moved to the rhythm of her own passions, some of them (her love for women) healthy but forbidden, others (her drinking) facilitating her downward spiral. She was born in Costa Rica and moved when she was just 14 to Mexico City, where she began singing on the streets. By the 1950s her vast talent -- and the uncontrolled quantities of anguish and passion that suffused her voice -- had become known, though she didn't record her first album (with Jose Alfredo Jimenez producing) until 1961. Despite the restrictions of the times, Vargas dressed in men's clothes, smoked cigars and chased women. She would even sing seductive songs to women in the audience. Vargas famously romanced Frida Khalo and jumped out of a window after being spurned by another lover, which left her with a permanent limp. Unfortunately her drinking took a toll, and she disappeared from view in the 1970s, though she'd become an icon in the international gay community. In the early 1990s, Pedro Almodovar began using her music in his films and reintroduced her to the world. She played Carnegie Hall in 2003, at the age of 83.

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