Chavela Vargas, a famed Mexican singer who defied gender stereotypes, passed away on Sunday at the age of 93.
The Huffington Post notes that Maria Cortina, Vargas’s friend and biographer, stated that the legendary singer died at a hospital in Cuernavaca, where she was admitted earlier this week for heart and respiratory problems.
Vargas’s rise to fame came through defying preconceptions that the Roman Catholic country had for what it meant to be a female singer. Chavela was known for singing lusty “ranchera” songs while she wore men’s clothes, carried a pistol, drank heavily and smoked cigars. Vargas told her audience at a Mexico City tribute concert in June 2011 that:
“I was never afraid of anything because I never hurt anyone. I was always an old drunk.”
Chavela Vargas recorded 80 albums in her music career, allowing her to become a prominent figure in Mexico City’s artistic explosion. She was honored as a “distinguished citizen” of Mexico City, and was also given Spain’s Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic. Spanish director Pedro Almodovar featured her music in many of his films, and stated, “I don’t think there is a stage big enough in this world for Chavela.”
According to Boston.com, Vargas’s liasions with women were known throughout her life, although she did not publicly come out as a lesbian until her autobiography, “Y si quieres saber de mi pasado” (“If You Want to Know About My Past), was published when she was 81. She wrote in the book that:
“What hurt was not being homosexual, but what they throw it in my face as if it were the plague.”
Vargas was still working in 2011, releasing a new album of Garcia Lorca’s poems. She took the stage in a wheelchair to standing ovations, while wearing her emblematic neckerchief. She also told interviewers that she was at “peace with life and could not ask for more.” She stated that she would “go with pleasure” when she died. Chavela Vargas said:
“Each of you remembers me as you like, each one say what they feel and what they lived with me. I ask God that wherever I am going someday, you will come to greet me, and I will greet all of you.”