The late Isabel Vargas Lizano, better known as Chavela Vargas, the ranchera singer extraordinaire, may have departed us recently but she is still making waves with her avant-garde past. Her death has brought on questions of an affair with Mexican artist Frida Kahlo at the height of her musical career in the 1960s, reports Hispanically Speaking News.
Speculation aside, Vargas made no qualms about her sexuality. Even as a young woman in the conservative 1950s, she was well known around bars as a womanizer and heavy drinker, rarely without a cigar in hand. Vargas’s androgynous garb and public relationships with women further challenged the strict moral code of Mexico at the time, but she officially came out as a lesbian at the age of 81 in 2000 in an autobiography, Y si quieres saber de mi pasado (If You Want to Know About My Past). In an interview with EL PAIS, Vargas states, “I’m proud to carry this stigma and call myself a lesbian. I don’t boast about it or broadcast it, but I don’t deny it.”
In 2009, The Los Angeles Times reported a controversial finding of what was allegedly claimed to be one of Frida Kahlo’s diaries revealing the artist’s unrequited attraction and brief affair with Vargas.
Julie Taymor’s 2002 biopic Frida featured Vargas singing and sharing a drink with Kahlo that further demonstrated the connection between the two groundbreaking artists.
Vargas is best known for her definitive pieces, “La Llorona (The Weeping Woman)” and “Piensa en Mi (Think of Me)” but it was songs like “Macorina” that made her famous, according to Marvette Perez, curator of Latin-American Culture and Music for the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Says Perez in a 2010 interview with NPR Music, “I don’t think there could be a more queer song for a woman to sing. The song says, 'Ponme la mano aqui, Macorina.' Put your hand right here, Macorina. And whenever she sang the song, she put such sexuality, desire and kind of sensuality into it that you knew why she was singing, why she was singing and to who she was singing it. She was singing it to a woman."