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Chavela Vargas, famed Mexican singer, dies at 93

By Austin Amuzie - Wednesday, August 8, 2012

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Chavela Vargas, who defied gender stereotypes to become one of the most legendary singers in Mexico, died Sunday at age 93.

Her friend and biographer Maria Cortina said Vargas died at a hospital in the city of Cuernavaca, where she had been admitted for heart and respiratory problems.

Vargas 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.

Born in San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica, on April 17, 1919, Vargas immigrated to Mexico at age 14. She sang in the streets as a teenager, then ventured into a professional singing career well in her 30s. "I was never afraid of anything because I never hurt anyone," Vargas told the audience at a Mexico City tribute concert in June 2011. "I was always an old drunk."

Vargas recorded 80 albums, becoming a major figure in Mexico City's artistic explosion of the mid-20th century. She was a friend and a frequent house guest of the Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and was close to the Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca.

Along the way she was honored as a "distinguished citizen" of Mexico City and was given Spain's Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic. In 2007 the Latin Recording Academy gave her its lifetime achievement award.

She appeared in the 2002 film "Frida," about her old friend, singing the eerie song "La Llorona," or "The Crier," in a hoarse but haunting voice. "I don't think there is a stage big enough in this world for Chavela," wrote the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, who featured her music in many of his films.

Her doctor, Jose Manuel Nunez, said Sunday that she had refused to accept breathing tubes or other measures to keep her alive. "She had to have a natural death," he said.

Cortina said Chavez "went with great peace. She never complained." She was conscious to the end, the writer said. "She sought my hand and her shamanic medallion."

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