You may have never heard of the name Carlos Gardel before you come to Argentina, but once you set foot in Buenos Aires especially, you’re bound to see his likeness everywhere from graffiti stencils on walls to decorations in traditional cafeterías, and his name is also a street name, subway station name and is even used in colloquial expression. Soon you’ll realize he is like the Frank Sinatra in the tango world and he is the face to a very prominent art form of Argentina.
Carlos Gardel was born in Toulouse, France on December 11, 1890 and moved to Argentina at an early age. He initially lived in the Abasto neighborhood (near Abasto shopping mall) and started his career singing at parties and local events. Before Gardel’s time, tango music only existed in instrumental form. Gardel was the first artist who sang tango with lyrics. In other words, he was the first ever tango singer who had created a whole new sentimental genre of tango songs. His first recording was made in 1917 of the song Mi Noche Triste (My Sad Night) which was also the very first tango song with lyrics being recorded. 10,000 copies were sold and it became a hit throughout Latin America.
With this instant success, Gardel started touring across Latin America, and later in New York and also in France. The late twenties were considered to be the golden era of tango, and Gardel was at the front of it. Other than composing and singing, he also made a few Paramount films in France and in the United States. His popularity had a lot to do with his infectious baritone voice as well as his suave handsome look that was made visible by the movie screens. He was the figure of cool, and was adored widely at home and abroad.
He was known to have many lovers throughout his life but it was believed that he actually had one serious girlfriend named Isabel del Valle but the relationship was kept in secret so as to maintain his public image as an eligible bachelor which was essential to his popularity. The relationship eventually ended in the early thirties.
Like many other legends whose lives were cut short too early, Gardel was killed in a plane crash on June 24, 1935 near Medellín while touring Colombia with his entourage and collaborators. As his body made its way home, it passed through Colombia, New York and Brazil, where thousands of mourning fans came to pay their respect at every stop. Gardel was laid in peace at La Chacarita Cemetary in Buenos Aires.
Despite only living to 45, Gardel had a large impact on many future singers and actors. He has also been the subject of various books and films, and in 2004 Uruguay even produced a stamp of him. Today, you can find out more about “The King of Tango” at the Museo Casa Carlos Gardel (Jean Jaurés 735) which is housed in his old home in Abasto. Free tango classes are also given on certain days of the week. Simply take the subte line B to the aptly named Carlos Gardel stop and it is just 5 minutes walk from there.