Birth Name: Charles Romuald Gardés Artistry: singer, composer Lived: 11 December 1890 - 23 June 1935 Alias: El Zorzal Criollo (The Creole Thrush)
Gardel is considered one of the most distinguished figures of tango, with a beautiful baritone voice. He is commonly referred to as both The King of Tango and the The Creole Thrush.
The birth of a musical prodigy
It is 1890 and indeed what a year: baby Gardel is born, with the birth-name Charles Romuald Gardés; son of Berta Gardés from which his surname is derived, because the father (understood to be Paul Lasserre) does not acknowledge his child.
Gardel's actual birthplace is disputed and evokes considerable controversy: it is assumed he was born in France as there is a French birth certificate; however there is a passport stating his birthplace as Uruguay, and we know that he came to Argentina at the age of two - hence there are three countries that claim him as their own: France, Uruguay and Argentina.
As a result of the passport, some Uruguayans claim that Gardel was actually born in Tacuarembó, Uruguay - though no Uruguayan birth certificate, manuscripts, or even records of Gardel's parents can be brought forward to back the claim. In fact in 1937 when Gardel's will and origin was contested, the Uruguayan government confirmed he was born in France.
To account for this confusion, the Gardel historian Luis Feldman said of Gardel:
Since he could not return to France with the name of CHARLES ROMUALD GARDES, because he was a war deserter, he made a passport in the name of CARLOS GARDEL, born in TACUAREMBO, URUGUAY, on December 11, 1887.
In 1893 he arrives in Argentina as an infant. Later, when asked, Gardel would only say that he was born at age 2½ in Buenos Aires.
The Early Years
As a child, Gardel's education was quite limited, as his genius lies in music not academia: he ends his schooling after only the second year of high school, in 1906. Thereafter
he is mentored by José Betinotti, who names him El Zorzal Criollo - The Creole Thrush, denoting that his voice is as lovely as a songbird's. He starts singing at bars, parties and restaurants as well as political meetings.
Gardel tells his mother that his life is headed to music, though she strongly discourages this attitude, telling him that he can't make a living from music. Gardel persists, and during his teens earns small money by singing serenades.
In 1910 - the year in which he changes his name to Gardel - his act is the artistic number at the Café O'Rondemann owned by the Traverso brothers, and he becomes renowned for his beautiful voice. There he acquires the nick-name El morocho del Abasto - the dark-haired guy from Abasto.
In 1911, during a singing match, Gardel meets José Razzano, a singer at the café El Pelado in the neighborhood of Balvanera. Gardel forms a lasting duo with Razzano, which expands a year later to include Francisco Martino, guitar player and singer; and then in 1913 expands again to include the singer Saúl Salinas. As a quartet, they tour the Buenos Aires countryside - though without much success. Salinas leaves the group, followed by Martino.
In 1913, the duo, Gardel and Razzano, under the name Dúo Nacional Gardel-Razzano play at the prestigious Cabaret-Restaurant Armenonville. A year later, they play at the Teatro Nacional of Buenos Aires, as well as many other theaters throughout Argentine. The tour expands during 1915 to take in Uruguay and Brazil - where Gardel meets his idol Enrico Caruso, who gave him this advice:
Molto bene [very good]... Bella voce [beautiful voice]... I am going to give some advice: do not let yourself be seduced by the easy successes nor by the misunderstanding... Reject all suggestion in the desire for change to obtain one or two higher tones in your voice... If you do it, you will be ruined. Aside from the voice, you have an unmistakable color, purest diction, clear, perfect... This is most valuable, it will allow you to faithfully reproduce any lyrics in the proper tone.
March 28, 1913 sees an advertisement in the Fray Mocho magazine for four double-sided discs recorded by Carlos Gardel - his first recordings! - with the following repertoire:
- La mañanita / Me dejaste
- Mi madre / Es en vano
- Pobre flor / La mariposa
- El almohadón / Brisas de la tarde
In December 1915, after a performance in the San Martín theater, Gardel is wounded in the lung by Ernesto Guevara Lynch (the father of the infamous Ernesto Che Guevara) as a result of a bar room argument - the bullet will be lodged in his lung for his entire life. In an area that was frequented by "thugs, pimps and anarchists, near many brothels and the headquarters of pimps", was Palais de Glace - an ice skating rink and social club - and after finishing their shows, Carlos Gardel and his friend Morganti and Alippi dropped in. Antonio Sumaje alias The Aviator, who was for years Gardel's chauffeur, recounted the event:
The thugs in those bars could not have fun without vicious jokes, destruction, bringing weapons and wounding those around them. To avoid getting into a fight, Gardel and his friends left the Palais. But the thugs were not so willing to give up the case. Taking prudence for cowardice, they followed. A fight was imminent and, given almost all of them were armed, would be bloody. Carlitos took a bold decision. Separating from his group, he stepped forward alone toward the provocative thugs and said with a gesture of goodwill: but guys, there is no need to do this. If we all come to have fun, then we don't need to continue this. When they saw him approaching, they fired a shot in the chest.
The shooting incident briefly interrupts Gardel's career. But later that year Gardel and Razzano continue their shows, and include the guitarist José Ricardo, who is nicknamed El Negro.
Till this time, Gardel is exclusively interpreting Argentinean folklore music such as Zamba, Chacarera and Queca Tonada. However 1917 marks a momentous milestone: Gardel decides to move into tango! One evening at the Teatro Empire he sings Mi Noche Triste by Samuel Castriota and Pascual Contursi. This is an instant hit, and marks a turning point upon which Gardel starts including tangos in his repertoire.
Mi Noche Triste
The Prestigious Singing Career
Gardel's career takes off! In 1917 he he stars in his first film - which is silent - called Flor de Durazno, and in addition has his next recording when he put to disc Cantar Eterno with one side a duet with Razzano and the other a solo. In the years between 1917 and 1922 Gardel and Razzano play at all the major Buenos Aires and Argentinean theaters and tour Chile, Montevideo, Brazil and Spain. However in 1920 Razzano has to undergo a throat operation, and the duo briefly suspend their performances. During this time Gardel meets his (future) girlfriend Isabel del Valle.
It is now 1924. Gardel has sung on the Buenos Aires radio show Low Gran Splendid, and continues to record, accompanied by Francisco Canaro´s orchestra. His career eventually spans hundreds of recordings, including 514 tangos.
The following year Razzano is overcome by concerns for his throat, and the Gardel-Razzano duo sing for the last time. Gardel now begins his career as a soloist, with Razzano as his manager, traveling to Spain with the group Compañía Rivera-De Rosas. He continues this for some time, with incredible success. In 1928 he debuts in Paris in Theatre Femina on the Champs Elysees, in a benefit concert. This performance catapults Gardel not only in France but also to the international stage. Between 1928 and 1930, he tours Italy, France and Spain, and (in 1931) shoots his first full-length talking feature Luces de Buenos Aires that was the beginning of a film career that propelled him to global stardom. He continues his tours in 1931 and 1932 to Cote d´Azur, Italy, London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Barcelona - and in Nice even befriends Charlie Chaplin. However his guitarist Aguilar leaves the tour due to a disagreement with Gardel.
1933 sees a series of films produced in Paris: Espérame, La Casa es Seria and Melodía de Arrabal.
Gardel returns to Buenos Aires and in 1933 records his last tango - Madame Ivonne, before leaving Argentina - for ever as it turns out - to play in Barcelona, Paris, and the United States where he presents on the most popular radio station in the world - NBC Radio.
In 1934 and 1935 he stars in the films Cuesta Abajo, El Tango en Broadway, the musical Cazadores de Estrellas, El Día Que Me Quieras and Tango Bar.
Gardel was known as a man of many lovers; that was part of allure, his myth. César Tiempo said:
A girlfriend, a lover or simply a woman that permanently accompanied him was never known, and whoever says something different must be kind of lying.
Gardel himself said of his love life:
I have loved many times in my life and I keep of that very pleasant memories, because in all my love affairs I have been happy. In all them I have loved in a different way according to the girl's temper, the circumstances and the environment. However, every time I fall in love I think this is the time when I have really loved...
I prefer Latin women, undoubtedly, because they are of my own race and consequently they better understand my nature, but I like all the attractive and intelligent women
It is said Gardel had many women; but the lovers that stand out in his life include:
Isabel del Valle was the closest Gardel had to a girlfriend, with whom he had a long relationship, starting 1920 - she was a well-developed 14 year old and he 31! O yes! Although she was a minor, Isabel lived with Gardel for more than twelve years. They broke up often, but each time reconciled - until 1934. She is considered the "everlasting fiancée" of Gardel, though the marriage never occurred. Gardel was pressured to financially support Isabel and her family to such a degree that he once wrote:
I have done enough and I'm still doing by giving her a house and by supporting her, of course until she is settled, I don't want to play the fool.
Some authors believe that perhaps an extortion by del Valle's family occurred, as Gardel's relationship began when Isabel was a minor and Gardel could have committed offences under law. The extortion has never been proven, however.
Carlos Gardel and Isabel del Valle
Mona Maris was an actress whom Gardel was involved with briefly and intensely; there is no definite proof that it was romantic, though it seems extremely likely, given in an interview she said that Gardel was:
A charming being and a very good looking fellow. He had achieved a great intellectual maturity and refinement in his habits... I was very attracted by his personality and I think he was impressed by mine. We had something in common: we were both born as a consequence of love... He was very respectful of women, not aggressive in the field of love, in spite of the fact that all the women were after him. Gardel was quite a man, I knew him enough so as to hold it.
Furthermore Isabel del Valle said of Mona:
She had been nothing else but an adventure... she had offered herself to him and Carlos was too much of a man and furthermore he was no fool. She had tempted him and Carlos had used her like any other man would have done.
Jeannette/Giovanna Ritana was also involved with Gardel. He met her in 1913, when he reunited with Razzano - and the group continued to a brothel, run by Jeannette Le Ritana whose true name was Giovanna Ritana.
It is said that possibly Gardel's famous shooting was due to killers hired by Ritana's husband. Either way, there was a terrible love triangle between Gardel, Ritana and her husband (Garesio). Once again it was Isabel del Valle who publicized the affair in an interview:
I'm going to tell you about the case of a woman that, as far as I know, had a relationship with Carlos. Her name was Ritana or so she was called. She ran a boarding house downtown, so I decided to see her to verify what was true. The so-called Ritana was French and her mixed-up Spanish proved it. She admitted she was Carlos´s lover, and nothing else but an adventure.
Sadie Wakefield was one of the rich elite, whose father owned the Carreras Tobacco Company, and whose husband was an American industrialist. It is said that Sadie Wakefield adored Gardel and when she invited him to visit her in Paris she paid all his and his friends' cost, as he was not rich. Moreover she also paid many of his debts, and helped finance his first film Luces de Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, it is an accepted fact that the relationship was a mutually convenient one: Sadie gained significant profits from the films, whereas Gardel gained entry to the elite.
The Tragic Death
On 23 June 1935 Gardel sings the last song he would ever sing, Tomo y Obligo, on radio. The next day he sets out on a tour of South America, but dies in an airplane crash at the pinnacle of his career: as the plane takes off, it collides against another on the runway, and both planes are consumed by flames. Millions of fans go into mourning.
Tomo y obligo
Charlie Chaplin eulogized Gardel as follows:
I knew the great singer in Nice... in March of 1931. Finding myself in Le Palais de la Méditerranée, a mutual friend put to us in contact... He had a superior presence of voice and figure, an enormous personal sympathy that would gain him the immediate affection of everyone. So profound was the sympathy he inspired in me, that I remember clearly that we stayed up until the first light of dawn, in a night of joy that would never repeat itself... I told Gardel he would have triumphant future and advised him to dedicate himself to the cinema... When Gardel arrived to the United States, he came to visit me, he was my guest which gave me the opportunity again to listen to his cherished songs... Days before initiating the tour he came to bid me goodbye and we were together awhile. He already spoke correct English and told me that he was going to make a tour of Central America, the idea that I applauded. You can tell the public that with Gardel I lose one of my best friends, and they should know that the South American countries could not have a better representative among us. As far as the cinematographic art is concerned, it has lost a paramount figure that never could be replaced.
The films Gardel starred in include:
Flor de Durazno - 1917. Silent. Director: Francisco Defilipis Novoa. Label: Patria Film.
Luces de Buenos Aires - 1931. Director: Adelqui Millar. Label: Paramount.
Espérame - 1933. Director: Luis Gasnier. Label: Paramount.
La Casa es Seria - 1933. Director: Jaquelux. Label: Paramount.
Melodía de Arrabal - 1933. Director: Luis Gasnier. Label: Paramount.
Cuesta Abajo - 1934. Director: Luis Gasnier. Label: Paramount.
El Tango de Broadway - 1935. Director: Luis Gasnier. Label: Paramount.
El Día Que me Quieras - 1936. Director: John Reinhardt. Label: Paramount.
Cazadores de Estrellas - 1936. Director: Norman Taurog y Theodore Reed. Label: Paramount.
Tango Bar - 1935. Director: John Reinhardt. Label: Paramount.
It is said that Gardel produced close to 1500 recordings. Out of these 971 are known and published; 43 are unpublished; 10 are on the short films; which means about 500 are unaccounted for.
The list of 971 known recordings is lengthy, as you can imagine. Some of these can be found on Gardel Discography.
It is worth noting that rights are protected for 70 years after author's death; hence Carlos Gardel's music is no longer under copyright.
Examples of Gardel's Music
Por Una Cabeza
El Dia Que Me Quieras
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