Costa Rican-Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, shown here in a ceremony to celebrate her 90th birthday. (Photo/ Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Chavela Vargas, “rancheras” icon, dead at 93

You might know her from her songs, or from her rendering of “La Llorona” in the iconic film “Frida.”  Chavela Vargas, a bohemian singer of “rancheras,” died Sunday in Cuernavaca, Mexico, at the age of 93.

Though she was born in Costa Rica, she moved to Mexico when she was a teen. Vargas recorded her first album in 1961, “Noche de Bohemia,” and in her youth was part of the heady art scene in Mexico.  Among her friends were Diego Rivera, Juan Rulfo, and Frida Kahlo, with whom she said she had been in love.

Though she did not publicly “come out” as a homosexual until late in her life, it was pretty well known before then.  She defied tradition by singing onstage dressed in men’s clothing, and smoking a cigar. In her autobiography in 1981, she wrote, “Homosexuality doesn’t hurt – what hurts is when you’re treated like you have the plague because of it.”

Vargas was rediscovered in the 1990s when a newer generation of artists like Spanish director Pedro Almodovar put her music in some of her films.  In 2002, she sang in the movie “Frida” and in 2007, she won a Latin grammy for her  musical excellence.

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