Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.
Biography of Mercedes Sosa, the “Voice of Latin America“, a singer of folk music, considered the greatest exponent of Argentine folklore.
Founder of the “Nuevo Cancionero” movement and one of the exponents of the new Latin American song.
She defined herself as “cantora” rather than “singer” because, as Facundo Cabral said, “cantora is the one who can; and singer, the one who must”.
Childhood and family of Mercedes Sosa
Haydée Mercedes Sosa was born on July 9, 1935 in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán.
Her father was a worker in the sugar industry; her mother worked as a laundress for wealthy families.
The beginning as a singer, she also tells it better than anyone else.
Something like this: “I was around 15 years old. My dad and mom, who were very Peronists, took advantage of a free train to Buenos Aires to celebrate October 17, Peronist Loyalty Day.
At school the singing teacher was absent and the director told me that we were going to sing the national anthem and that I had to get ahead and sing loudly so that everyone would follow me. I was embarrassed, but I sang: I made my debut there”.
And she kept counting: “That same day the homework teacher was also absent; and with my colleagues we went to a contest that was on the Radio. My companions pushed me to sing.
Fearing that my dad would find out, I said my name was Gladys Osorio. When I finished singing, the owner of the Radio told me: The contest ended and you won it“.
“In the following days I kept singing on the Radio. Until my dad discovers me and calls me and says to me, do you think it’s nice to be going on the radio? Is that what a young lady raised to be decent does? Gladys Osorio come on, come closer… Do I have to congratulate her? Look me in the eyes”.
Mercedes Sosa’s beginnings as a popular singer
From then on she devoted herself to singing, although she always felt a huge stage fright when she sang in public.
In that first period, Mercedes had Margarita Palacios and Antonio Tormo as musical references.
Her performances were divided between acts supporting Peronism, the “Hermanos Medina” circus, and the Radio, where she sang boleros in the “Hermanos Herrera” ensemble.
In 1957, she married musician Oscar Matus; They went to live in Mendoza and both established an artistic partnership with the poet and broadcaster Armando Tejada Gómez.
The city of Mendoza was one of the three endearing places of Mercedes Sosa, along with Tucumán and Buenos Aires.
In her last will she asked that her ashes be scattered in these three places.
She also had a special affection for Montevideo, where she was treated for the first time as a great singer, in a series of performances she carried out on Radio El Espectador.
Her roots were in Tucumán, her son Fabián was born in Mendoza. Her happiness was in Montevideo, where it was her first recognition as an artist.
Mercedes Sosa, great singer of folk music
Mercedes Sosa began to sing when the folk music, characteristic of the provinces, was gaining in popularity to the tango of Buenos Aires.
It was a phenomenon known as the folklore boom. It was produced due to the migration of millions of people from the countryside to the cities, and from the provinces to Buenos Aires.
In 1959, thanks to the intervention of Ben Molar, a musician related to the directors of the RCA and admirer of the talent of the still little-known Tucuman singer, Mercedes Sosa recorded her first album entitled “La voz de la zafra”.
The album is made up of 8 beautiful songs by partners Matus and Tejada Gómez in addition to four other songs by friendly authors.
Among them, the song “Nocturna” had special significance for Mercedes Sosa because it was the song that symbolized love at first sight with Oscar Matus.
This album was reissued later, with the title of “Canta Mercedes Sosa“.
The New Songbook Movement
Oscar Matus, Armando Tejada Gómez and Mercedes Sosa formed a decisive artistic trio, which led to the creation of the “Nuevo Cancionero” movement on February 11, 1963.
The three promoted the movement: Armando Tejada, with his words; Oscar Matus with music; and Mercedes Sosa with the voice.
Other artists demonstrated around the world as the New Song movement.
The artistic principles set forth in the Founding Manifesto of the New Songbook Movement are wonderful. They reflect talent, generosity and height of vision.
It is very illustrative to read the details of its principles. Among other affirmations, it says: “There is a country for the whole songbook; all that remains is to integrate a songbook for the entire country”.
One of the representatives of this movement was the unforgettable Atahualpa Yupanqui.
Throughout her artistic life, Mercedes Sosa was guided by the principles of the New Songbook, often overcoming deep-rooted artistic, cultural and ideological prejudices.
From there comes the rigorous selection of her songs, which have an origin and a strong link with the popular.
Another characteristic of this movement was its constant support for young authors and musical forms, the intense dialogue with national rock, tango and pop, as well as the Latin American dimension of their art.
Mercedes Sosa was left alone with her son
In 1965, her husband abandoned her, leaving her and her son Fabián in a very difficult financial and emotional situation.
Mercedes Sosa moved to Buenos Aires, and there she recorded her second album, entitled “Songs with a foundation“.
Great victory for Mercedes Sosa in Cosquín
Also in 1965, shortly before turning 30, Mercedes Sosa unexpectedly reached popular consecration.
She was witnessing, among the public, the V edition of the Cosquín Folk Festival.
Suddenly, the famous musician Jorge Cafrune, on his own initiative and against the wishes of the organizers, made her go up on stage and presented her with the following words:
“I am going to dare, because it is a daring what I am going to do now; I know that I am going to receive a pull of ears; But what can we do!
I’ve always been like this, galloping against the wind. I am going to offer you the song of a very pure woman, who has not had the opportunity to give it and who, as I tell you, even if the anger arises, I am going to leave a Tucumana with you: Mercedes Sosa! ”.
Mercedes Sosa, with her pint of servant, took the stage and sang Fernando Figueredo’s “Song of the Indian Collapse“, accompanied only by her bass drum.
The audience erupted in applause and cheers, even before the song ended, making it the festival’s surprise.
Mercedes had always had problems with the authorities, because she was a communist, but the success was so great that the public sent.
Cosquín’s success immediately meant an offer from the PolyGram label to record her third album, which came out in 1966 with the title of “Yo no canto por cantar”.
With this album she achieved a fame that would never leave her again, since it contains unforgettable songs, both for the lyrics and for the wonderful voice of Mercedes.
International tour of singer Mercedes Sosa
In 1967 she made a successful tour of the United States and Europe. The following year, she released the album titled “Con sabor a Mercedes Sosa“, in which she sings “From the north I bring in the soul“, by Virgilio Carmona, a song dedicated to Tucumán, her native province.
Shortly after, in the spring of 1969 she made her first presentation in Chile.
Simultaneously, she recorded a simple album dedicated to two Chilean authors: Violeta Parra “Gracias a la vida“, and Víctor Jara “Te recuerdo Amanda“.
In 1970, she published another album titled “El grito de la tierra”, in which she included the song “Canción con todos”, by Armando Tejada Gómez and César Isella, which has been considered the unofficial anthem of Latin America.
Also there are “Duerme negrito”, by Atahualpa Yupanqui, and the zamba “Alfonsina y el mar”.
She recorded one of her most famous albums: “Homenaje a Violeta Parra”, in 1971. She included “Gracias a la vida” and “La carta” (with Quilapayún).
The album begins with a recitation of excerpts from the poem “Defense of Violeta Parra“, which her brother Nicanor Parra wrote two years before Violeta died.
It is curious that Mercedes Sosa died on October 4, the day of Violeta Parra’s birth. Both would have rejoiced in their folk songs and their committed singing.
Mercedes Sosa wins in the 1970s
The year 1973 was fruitful for Mercedes’ performances:
She performed her first performance in Spain, with a recital at the Palacio de los Deportes in Barcelona, where people sang her songs, to the point of moving her and making her cry with emotion.
She published the album “A que florezca mi pueblo” where she included “Chacarera de un triste” and “Se equivocó la paloma” (Rafael Alberti’s poem).
She recorded the album “Traigo un pueblo en mi voz“, where she included two musical poems by the Peruvian poet César Vallejo.
After the coup d’état of March 24, 1976, being a declared communist, Mercedes Sosa was included in the blacklists of the military regime and her records were banned.
However, in that year the album “Mercedes Sosa, la Mamancy” was released, where it included “I like it when you shut up because you are absent ...”, a poem by Pablo Neruda.
Taking advantage of her need to flee Argentina, in 1976 she toured Europe and North Africa with the young guitarist from Chabuca Granda and with the Argentine-Peruvian Lucho González.
They finished the tour in Brazil, where they recorded another version of “Back to Seventeen” with Milton Nascimento.
In 1977 Mercedes recorded a single, with two songs by Milton Nascimento. Thus began the custom of including Brazilian songs in her repertoire, such as “María María”.
Mercedes Sosa’s forced exile
Mercedes Sosa tried to remain in Argentina despite the prohibitions and threats.
In 1978, when she was giving a recital in La Plata, she was arrested on stage and a large part of the audience was arrested.
She went to Paris and then to Madrid. Exile was very painful for Mercedes Sosa. Her second husband, Pocho Mazitelli, had died in 1978.
During those years she continued to publish albums, such as “Mercedes Sosa plays Atahualpa Yupanqui” and “Serenata para la tierra de uno”.
In the latter, she adopted as a message the song of the same title by María Elena Walsh: “Porque me duele si me quedo, pero me muero si me voy“.
In 1981, she recorded the album “A quién doy” in France.
The title is taken from the song by Julio Lacarra with which the album begins, referring to exile: “To whom I give the strings of my guitar, so that they do not sound sad at the time of my goodbye“.
The album included other songs filled with sadness from exile, which remained in her usual repertoire.
This album was also released in Argentina, with a different repertoire from the original, since censorship did not admit the diffusion of some songs.
Return of Mercedes Sosa to her homeland
Mercedes Sosa returned to Argentina in February 1983. She performed 13 recitals in a packed room at the Teatro Ópera in Buenos Aires.
These recitals became a renewing fact of Argentine popular music.
They included themes, musicians, and songwriters from different musical currents, such as folklore, tango, and national rock.
The performance was recorded on a double album under the title “Mercedes Sosa in Argentina“.
It was a bestseller and one of the outstanding records in the country’s musical history.
She had to return to exile when she learned that one of the genocides, Admiral Carlos Alberto Lacoste asked: “Who gave permission to Mercedes Sosa to be in my country?“.
In that same year 1983, she recorded the album “Like a free bird” (title taken from the song of the same name by Adela Gleijer and Diana Reches).
She could only settle in Argentina after democracy recovered on December 10, 1983.
She was committed to the struggles for human rights and the preservation of the democratic regime.
In 1984 she released the album “¿Será posible el Sur?“, which includes songs of great political, cultural and artistic impact.
It contains songs like “We still sing” (by Víctor Heredia), “Everything changes” (by the Chilean Julio Numhauser, one of the founders of the Quilapayún group) and “Like birds in the air” (by Peteco Carabajal).
The following year, Mercedes released two albums.
The first was “I come to offer my heart“, taking the title of the rocker song Fito Páez (“Who said that everything is lost? I come to offer my heart“).
The other album was “American Heart“, a record of the recital she performed with Milton Nascimento and León Gieco.
Gustavo Santaolalla and Antonio Tarragó Ros also participate as guests.
As a producer, Mercedes Sosa organized in 1988 one of the most important shows presented in Argentina: “Sin Fronteras”.
The Argentinian Teresa Parodi and Silvina Garré were at the Luna Park stadium in Buenos Aires; the Colombian Leonor González Mina; the Venezuelan Lilia Vera; the Brazilian Beth Carvalho; and the Mexican Amparo Ochoa, in addition to Mercedes herself.
Mercedes Sosa in the 1990s
With Chilean democracy restored, Mercedes Sosa sang for the first time in Chile in 1992.
Since then, she returned to Santiago and Viña del Mar several times.
In the 1990s, Mercedes Sosa established herself as one of the best singers in the world and began to be called La Voz de América.
She had performances in stadiums and on the largest and most prestigious stages, such as the Lincoln Center, the Carnegie Hall el Mogador in Paris, the Concertegebouw in Amsterdam, the Colón Theater in Buenos Aires and at the Colosseum in Rome.
In December 1994 she represented the voices of America, at the Second Christmas Concert held in the Nervi Room in Vatican City.
There she sang “Mi madre María” and “Navidad 2000”. The recital was recorded on a double album and released in Italy under the title “Concerto di Natale“.
On January 28, 1997 Mercedes Sosa closed the Cosquín Festival incorporating Charly García, one of the emblems of Argentine rock and with whom Mercedes Sosa had a close friendship.
In 1997, Mercedes was affected by an acute depression that took almost a year to recover.
She returned to give massive concerts in Argentina and returned to tour the world.
In 1999, she recorded the “Misa criolla”, by Ariel Ramírez; a famous work, which she dedicated to her mother.
That same year of 1999 she performed a recital with Luciano Pavarotti at the Boca Juniors Club stadium in Buenos Aires, in which they sang a pair of two songs: “Caruso” and “Cuore ingrato“.
In 2001 she performed in Israel for the first time (she also did it in 2008) and was especially applauded for having sung in Hebrew “Livkot lejá” (cry for you), by Aviv Guefen, in memory of the murder of Itzhak Rabin.
On September 7, 2003, invited by the classical music pianist Martha Argerich, she performed with her at the Colón theater in Buenos Aires.
The recital also included guitarist Eduardo Falú. The recital closed with Martha Argerich and Mercedes Sosa performing five songs together.
On June 30, 2008, she sang in Tucumán for the presidents of the member and associated countries of Mercosur: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Her last works were “Cantora“, a double album where she sings 34 songs in duet with outstanding Ibero-American singers, closing with the Argentine national anthem; and “Cantora II” the second volume of duets that she performed with 35 national and international artists.
These two albums are of real anthology.
This extraordinary woman died at the age of 74, in Buenos Aires, on October 4, 2009.
Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.