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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence
With reports from hundreds of sub-Saharan African locales of male-male sexual relations and from about fifty of female-female sexual relations, it is clear that same-sex sexual relations existed in traditional African societies, though varying in forms and in the degree of public acceptance
 
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In Memoriam
 
In Memoriam: Chavela Vargas (1919-2012)
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/06/12
Last updated on: 08/06/12
 
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Acclaimed Costa Rican-Mexican singer Chavela Vargas died on August 5, 2012 in a hospital in Cuernavaca, where she had been admitted for heart and respiratory problems.

In his glbtq.com entry on her, Miguel A. Segovia observes that "Vargas became notorious for the eroticism of her performances and for her open expression of lesbian desire."

As Isaac Garrido reports in the Huffington Post, Vargas defied gender stereotypes to become one of the most legendary singers in Mexico. She "rose to fame flouting the Roman Catholic country's preconceptions of what it meant to be a female singer: singing lusty 'ranchera' songs while wearing men's clothes, carrying a pistol, drinking heavily and smoking cigars."

Segovia notes that a crucial element of Vargas's radical performance art was her seduction of women in the audience and her singing songs written to be sung by a man to a woman.

A major figure in Mexico City's mid-twentieth century artistic explosion, she was a friend and frequent house guest of the Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. She had an affair with Kahlo and was close to the gay Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.

Fittingly, she appeared in Julie Taymor's film Frida (2002), where she hauntingly sings "La Llorona," or "The Crier."

After gaining fame in the 1960s, Vargas fell into alcoholism in the 1970s. She retreated from the public sphere for about twelve years. She attempted comebacks with only modest success, though she did sing in local cabarets, especially those frequented by gay men, who throughout her career constituted a large fraction of her admirers.

In 1981, she made a major comeback with stellar performances in the Olympia Theatre of Paris, Carnegie Hall in New York, the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico, and the Palau de la Música in Barcelona.

She experienced another revival in the early 1990s. Gay filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar helped bring her a new audience by incorporating her bold, expressive, and seductive music into his films.

In 2000, the President of Spain presented Vargas with "la Cruz de la Orden Isabel Católica," one of the most prestigious awards for artistic production.

Vargas pursued an active working life into her nineties. In 2011, she released a new album of García Lorca's poems and appeared in concerts, singing from her wheelchair.

The video below captures Vargas in concert late in her life.

In the clip below, from Frida, Vargas sings "La Llorona."

___
 
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