Carlos Gardel, born Charles Romuald Gardes in December 11 1890, was an Argentine tango singer, songwriter, composer and actor, and is perhaps the most prominent figure in the history of tango. Gardel died in an airplane crash at the height of his career, becoming an archetypal tragic hero mourned throughout Latin America. For many, Gardel embodies the soul of the tango style. He is commonly referred to as “Carlitos”, “El Zorzal” (The Song Thrush), “The King of Tango”, “El Mago” (The Magician), “El Morocho del Abasto” (The Brunet Boy from Abasto), and “El Mudo” (The Mute).
Gardel possessed a baritone voice deployed with unerring musicality and dramatic phrasing, creating miniature masterpieces among the hundreds of three-minute tangos which he recorded during his lifetime. Together with his long-term collaborator, lyricist Alfredo Le Pera, Gardel also wrote several classic tangos, notably ‘Mi Buenos Aires querido’, ‘Amores de Estudiante’, ‘Soledad’, ‘Volver’, ‘Por una cabeza’ and ‘El día que me quieras’.
Gardel was born to unmarried 25-year-old laundress Berthe Gardes, the baby registered under the name Charles Romuald Gardes in Toulouse, France, on 11 December 1890. The father of the baby boy was listed on his birth certificate as “unknown”; eleven days later Berthe Gardes signed a statement establishing the baby’s father as Paul Laserre, a married man who left Toulouse a few months before the baby was born. Berthe Gardes left Toulouse a few years later, likely to escape the social stigma of having a child born out of wedlock. In early 1893 in Bordeaux, France, mother and son boarded the ship SS Don Pedro and sailed to Buenos Aires, arriving on 11 March 1893. Berthe Gardes had her passport recorded; she told immigration authorities that she was a widow. The two-year-old boy was recorded as Charles Gardes.
Gardel grew up going by Carlos, the Spanish version of his French name, and often by the familiar diminutive form Carlitos. He lived in the Abasto neighborhood of Buenos Aires. He attended Pio IX Industrial high-school located in the Almagro neighborhood of Buenos Aires. His mother worked pressing clothes in the French style.
Gardel began his career singing in bars and at private parties, and in 1911 formed a duet with Francisco Martino, and after with José Razzano (which would last until 1925), singing a wide repertory. Gardel made the music his own by inventing the tango-canción in 1917 with ‘Mi Noche Triste’, a theme by Pascual Contursi and Samuel Castriota, which sold 100,000 copies and was a hit throughout Latin America. Gardel went on to tour Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia and made appearances in Barcelona, Madrid, Paris and New York. He sold 70,000 records in the first three months of a 1928 visit to Paris. As his popularity grew, he made a number of films for the Paramount in France and the USA, which were essentially vehicles for his singing and matinée-idol looks.
When Gardel and his collaborator Le Pera were killed in an airplane crash in Medellín, Colombia in 1935, millions of his fans throughout Latin America went into mourning. Hordes of people thronged to pay their respects as the singer’s body travelled via Colombia, New York and Rio de Janeiro to its final resting place in La Chacarita cemetery in Buenos Aires.
Gardel is still revered from Buenos Aires to Tokyo, where people like to say that “he sings better every day.” His fans still like to place a lit cigarette in the fingers of the life-sized statue which adorns his tomb. One of Gardel’s favourite phrases, ‘Veinte años no es nada’ (Twenty years is nothing) became a famous saying across Latin America.
Mi noche triste (1917)
Esta noche me emborracho (1928)
Adiós muchachos (1928)
Tomo y obligo (1931)
Lejana tierra mía (1932)
Amores de estudiante (1933)
Melodía de arrabal (1933)
Guitarra guitarra mía (1933)
Cuesta abajo (1934)
Mi Buenos Aires querido (1934)
Por una cabeza (1935)
Sus ojos se cerraron (1935)
Volvió una noche (1935)
El día que me quieras (1935)