Carlos Gardel - The King of Argentine Tango

He sings better every day

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Known as El Zorzal Criollo, the songbird of Buenos Aires, Carlos Gardel is a legendary figure in Argentina. The charismatic French-born singer's career coincided with the development of that intrinsically Argentine cultural icon, the Tango, the music, song and dance of Buenos Aires' tenements - arrabales. 

Carlos Gardel y el retrato de su madre Berthe Gardes (Cancion Moderna, 8 de julio de 1935)Gardel began his career singing in bars and parties and in 1913 formed a duet with José Razzano (which would last until 1925), singing a wide variety of folk songs. Gardel made  the music his own by inventing the Tango-song, with his 1917 hit Mi Noche Triste, (which sold a 100.000 copies) and was an instant popular hit in Latin American countries. Gardel toured Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brasil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia and cities like BarcelonaParis and New York. He sold 70.000 records in the first three months of a 1928 visit to Paris. During his short life, he recorded a total of 770 themes, including 514 tangos. Gardel's huge popularity as an interpreter of the melancholy ballads of the tango was confirmed in the 1920s and 30s in nightclubs and motion pictures. The Argentine elite overcame their aversion to the tango's humble origins and open sensuality only when the man and his music were already widely accepted in France and Spain. Radio performances and a film career extended this appeal.

Carlos Gardel was born in Toulouse, France as CHARLES ROMUALD GARDÈS on December 11, 1890 of an unknown father and Berthe Gardes (1865-1943) who brought him to Argentina at 27 months of age. In his new homeland and until 1913, he was known as CARLOS GARDES (or Gardez). Since then, he changed it to the artistic nickname CALOS GARDEL by which he was known for the rest of his life.

Gardel's sky-rocketing career was cut short in 1935, when he lost his life in a plane crash in Medellin, Colombia on June 24, 1935. Hordes of people thronged to pay their respects as the singer's body made the journey traveling via Colombia, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo to his final resting place in La Chacarita cemetery, Buenos Aires with the multitude listening to his tango Silencio. Instantly immortal and preserved forever young, his enduring fame is measured by the oft-heard Argentine expression "Gardel sings better every day". Sixty eight after his death, a devoted following keeps the legend blazing, playing Gardel's music daily and placing a lit cigarette in the hand of the life-sized statue which graces his tomb and keeping his few films in circulation.

Carlos Gardel Biography in 5 languages: Spanish, English, French, German and Japanese..

What is the Tango?

In those times the tangos were almost never sung. They were the Creole estilos and tonadas.

Then came the tango-song, sentimental or mischievous, suburban and colorful, with pains of absence, contradicting loves, bully's stab and the weeping of a deceived girl. The poets of the humble Buenos Aires flourished and in each neighborhood bandoneón was heard modulating tangos with themes from songs coming from all the ports. In the same crucible of races that fused the Buenos Aires man, the tango-song found its form, the pains of the boy of this land, that the wind took across the seas to move the restless girls of Paris or to enchant the blonde Anglo-Saxon millionairesses. 

It is not enough to have the most melodious voice to intone a tango. No. In addition, it is necessary to feel it. One has to live in its spirit. 

I live it, I feel it in the sweet glance of a beautiful and well-endowed woman who sees me drive by in my fast "voiturette"; I know that I am the tango when after leaving the racetrack the crowd of men follow me with their glances; I am not deceived when the tailor takes pains to make me his best suit or the saleswoman looks for the prettiest necktie for me. I know that the tribute is to the tango. I am for them the tango. And I like it, because I feel more like I belong here. Even though I intone a sweet French song, even though people listen to my beautiful notes of "Parlez moi D'Amour", I know that I am the singer of tangos who lends himself for other songs.
Gardel's comment for: Noticias Gráficas, Buenos Aires, Sept. 21, 1933).

"People do not understand what I do, they think that I make the money without doing anything.  

And I do make it, it is certain; I make a lot, but work many hours of the day. So that they realize, this figure is enough: I get to record twenty songs each month. In addition to the recording, which in that form has to be almost daily, taking into account the instrumentation, the harmonization of guitars, the modifications that should always be introduced, so that the song and the instruments work well, and it will be visible what is my life; very pleasant, I cannot complain, only about the continuous work.
(Gardel's comment for: La Nación, Buenos Aires, June 30, 1929).
Carlos Gardel signature - July 31, 1934 - New York

According to SADAIC (Argentine Society of Writers and Music Composers), in 2006, 70 years after the death of Gardel and Lepera, their works will revert to public domain. This will include the scores from most of Gardel films.

According to his agent, Armando Defino, during 20 years, from 1915-1935, Gardel earned about 2.000.000 pesos. This is equivalent to $US 500.000, a fortune in those days. At the time of his death, only 70.000 pesos remained.

Gardel y su familia en Albi cerca de Toulouse, 18 de septiembre de 1934. Foto de Carlos Gardel en primer grado (1887), tomada en la Escuela Nicolás Avellaneda, Buenos Aires
Gardel and his family en Albi cerca de Toulouse, 18 septiember 1934. (Gardel visited Toulouse 5 times between 1923-1934).
Photo of Carlos Gardel in first grade (1887), in Nicolás Avellaneda school, Buenos Aires. Click here to enlarge.

Lunfardo dictionary,
In many of his songs, Gardel added a good deal of native prose by mixing in the Buenos Aires "Lunfardo" slang. The only way you will fully understand what he sings is by looking up the Lunfardo dictionary at the above site.


Some of his best friends were: Charlie Chaplin, the Spanish soccer star Josep Samitier, Argentinean singer Azucena Maizani, Uruguayan jockey Irineo Leguizamo, Argentinean movie star Tito Lusiardo and reporter Edmundo Guibourg. On Dec. 3, 1999, famous Argentine composer and the last of great tango poets, Enrique Cadicamo, the last of Gardel's living friends, author of 23 of his themes, passed away at age 99. The singers of his time which he respected the most were: Ignacio Corsini and Azucena Maizani

In August 1924, in Buenos Aires, Gardel sings for the visiting Prince of Wales (who later became Edward VIII). On February 5, 1929, Gardel sings at the Paris Opera.
"Except for Gardel, no-one has possessed the city. CARLOS GARDEL is the only authentic persistence in the sentimentality of Buenos Aires." (Florencio Escardó - Buenos Aires - 1945).
"To govern Argentina, you have to put on a Gardel smile". (General Juan Domingo Perón). Or, as Borges would, by reversing history, jokingly say: "Gardel smiles like Perón".
"His tangos and his songs captivated the masses." The New York Times, June 25, 1935:
Gardel was once asked as to which of his interpretations he liked the best. He responded "El carretero". This folk song was his greatest hit in France.
"The tango is like a lullaby that gets in your ear and never goes away." (Gardel's comment when interviewed by Noticias Gráficas, Sept. 21, 1933).
The great Carlos Gardel interpreted "Mano a Mano" with the customary mastery. The attending public in the Theater San Martín awarded Gardel's performance with true ovations... 

...The speaker José Cánepa,  knew how to correctly present all the artists, distinguishing himself when introducing Carlitos by saying: "WHEN THE HISTORY OF THE TANGO IS WRITTEN, ON A SEPARATE PAGE AND WITH GOLD LETTERS, IT WILL EMBOLDEN THE NAME OF CARLOS GARDEL".
(The Critica newspaper, June 4, 1933)
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