Arts & Entertainment

Argentine exhibit pays tribute to female tango pioneers

By Julieta Barrera

Buenos Aires, Aug 12 (EFE).- Seven female tango pioneers of the early 20th century – singers, instrumentalists, composers and actresses who left their mark on that musical genre and achieved legendary status – are now being honored in an exhibition at the Carlos Gardel House Museum in Argentina’s capital.

Musical stars known for their album recordings and film and radio performances, they won the admiration of the public and the respect of their peers and carved out a space in the arts, “something difficult to do at that time,” the museum’s director, Gabriel Soria, told Efe.

Flora Gobbi, Rosita Quiroga, Paquita Bernardo, Tita Merello, Ada Falcon, Anita Palmero and Nelly Omar are the women featured in the exhibition, which has been curated by 20th-century musicologist Marina Cañardo and showcases musical instruments, scores, records and photos, among other objects of historical interest.


Nelly Omar, whose piano is on display in the exhibit, enjoyed the most longevity of the seven. In 2011, at the age of 100, that actress and tango singer gave a concert at Luna Park in Buenos Aires and delighted those in attendance with her impressive repertoire of songs.

“She was a great performer of tango ‘cancionero’ and ‘criollo.’ They called her ‘the different voice’ and ‘Gardel with a skirt,’ a label she found less flattering but which also was a compliment,” said Soria, who was a personal friend of the recording artist (1911-2013).

Nelly, the museum director explains, was a performer who, like Carlos Gardel and other artists before her, was able to merge the criolla song of the nascent pampa, the pampa near the city, with the sound of urban tango.

Like other recording artists, Nelly faced trials and tribulations in mid-1950s Argentina and even was forced to leave the country for a period of time.

She had dedicated the song “La descamisada” (The Shirtless Woman) to her friend Eva Peron, first lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952 and a woman she greatly admired, but after the fall of the Peronist government that gesture of affection cost her dearly.

“After 1956, she was banned and she told me she had no money for food because no one would give her work,” Soria said.

Even so, Nelly soldiered on and began singing at one of the few places that allowed her to perform: a bar known as “El Rincon de los Artistas” (The Artists’ Corner). The singer had sold most of her stage clothing out of necessity, so she opted to cover herself with a poncho that subsequently became her signature item of clothing.

“The poncho, as she herself would say, killed her hunger,” Soria said.


“She was a musician, singer and actress,” the museum director said of the multifaceted Tita Merello (1904-2002), another musical pioneer who in 1933 appeared in Argentina’s first sound film, “Tango.”

“In (the 1955 film) ‘Mercado de Abasto,’ Merello sings the milonga ‘Se dice de mi,’ a work composed by Francisco Canaro and Ivo Pelay,” he said, referring to a tune composed to accompany a like-named ballroom dance that was the precursor of tango.

“But also we have ‘Los isleros’ (1951), ‘La morocha’ (1958), some very interesting films, ‘Amorina’ (1961), alongside Hugo del Carril.”

Tita also appeared frequently in plays, performed on radio and in radio theater shows and recorded albums, although “perhaps not to the same degree the others recorded,” Soria said.


Paquita Bernardo, nicknamed “the bandoneon woman” and “the flower of Villa Crespo,” the Buenos Aires neighborhood where she was born in 1900, not only was the first female professional bandoneon player but also headed up her own orchestra featuring a young Osvaldo Pugliese, who years later became an acclaimed composer and orchestra director in his own right.

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