Chavela Vargas - "Paloma Negra"
In June we will be featuring all LGBTQ+ artists in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month
Born Isabel Vargas Lizano, Chavela Vargas left her hometown in Costa Rica at 17 to become a cigar-smoking, gun-toting ranchera singer in 1930s Mexico City. She would remain there for the rest of her 93 years, pushing the bounds of Mexican social mores around music, gender and sexuality. Whereas ranchera music was typically the domain of heterosexual men and their drunken declarations of heartbreak, Vargas notoriously refused to swap pronouns in her songs, aiming her throaty bellows towards women who scorned her all the same. There continues to be speculation that she once had a dalliance with bisexual Mexican painter Frida Kahlo; an iconic photo, taken in the 1940s, captures the two mid-giggle as they snuggle in the grass.
In the 2002 biopic Frida, Vargas plays a specter who serenades Kahlo – played by actress Salma Hayek – with her original song, “La Llorona” [“The Weeping Woman”]. Vargas would also appear in several of Pedro Almodóvar’s films, including La Flor de Mi Secreto; but she insisted that acting was never her focus. She did not come out as a lesbian until the age of 82, or when her autobiography, Y si Quieres Saber de Mi Pasado [And If You Want to Know About My Past], was published in 2002. In spite of her Costa Rican heritage, dozens of Mexican singers have since cited Vargas as an influence, from Lila Downs to Grammy winner Natalia Lafourcade. In 2007, the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences granted her a Lifetime Achievement Award – which she accepted dressed in a man’s button-down shirt and straw hat. Chavela, a documentary chronicling her life, was released in the U.S. October 2017.
She is a BOSS.
A leader for not only Latinx music but also for women in music and especially LGBTQ+ representation in music. Her style is authentic and soft and filled with heartache, like a female Johnny Cash she has a sound that, though not typically pleasing, is hard to forget and easy to listen to. She is a true icon.
So today, with boundaries to be pushed, I choose Chavela Vargas’ "Paloma Negra" as my, change your mindset and change your mind, listen to the stories that haven’t been told, yours is not the only divinity on this sphere, song for a, shake up the box, lift the veil, honor the things that have brought you to this point, Wednesday.