The birth of the tango song
Tango had always been danced to instrumental music. Then, practically overnight, Gardel made a place for the singer in the world of tango. In 1917, he premiered a song of Pascual Contursi's lyrics set to a Samuel Castriota tango, renaming it Mi Noche Trieste. It was a huge success, and an even bigger hit when it was released as a recording the following year, selling100,000 copies in just three months. Razzano bowed out of the duo in 1925 and from then on, Gardel performed as a soloist live, on radio and recordings. He became known as El Zorzal Criollo, the Songbird of Buenos Aires. His tours took him to the major cities of Europe including Paris where he debuted in 1928.
Among Gardel's most popular songs were Mis Buenos Aires querido ("My Beloved Buenos Aires"), Amores de estudiante ("Loves of a Student"), Soledad ("Solitude"), Volver ("To Return"), Por una cabeza ("By a Head") and El dia que me quieras ("The Day You Love Me").
Gardel, the movie star
Though he had dabbled in silent films and recorded ten songs as short films, Gardel found his niche in the thirties' musicals that developed out of film sound technology. He completed eight enormously successful Spanish-language films under contract with Paramount between 1931 and 1935 and a cameo performance in one of the studio's Hollywood films.
In 1935, he set out on a concert and film promotional tour of the Caribbean and northern South America. On June 24, in Medellin, Colombia, he and his lyricist, Alfredo Le Pera, age 35, boarded their plane at Olaya Herrera Airport to return to Buenos Aires. On take-off, it collided with another plane.
Tango fans the world over went into mourning. More than one committed suicide in her grief. A wake was held before a capacity crowd at Buenos Aires' Luna Park Stadium. His body also lay in state in several locations outside Argentina, including Montevido, Rio de Janeiro and New York before being buried in Buenos Aires' La Chacarita Cemetery.
Life after death
Death did nothing to diminish Gardel's importance in the world of tango or his significance as a symbol of triumph over adversity among portenos. On the fiftieth anniversary of his death and the centenary of his birth, celebrations took place around the world. In 1977, December 11th was declared National Tango Day in Argentina, so designated because it was the birth date of Gardel and another important figure of tango, violinist/conductor Julio De Caro. On this day each year, throngs of citizens pay their respects at Gardel's gravesite. On the anniversary of Gardel's death, a smaller number of fans make a similar pilgrimage there.
In 2003, the Museo Casa Carlos Gardel opened in his former Abasto home. A subway stop on the B-line and a city street in the Balvanera neighborhood bear his name. Gardel impersonators make a living as street performers. There is a saying in Buenos Aires, "Gardel sings better every day."
To read more about Carlos Gardel, we suggest The Life, Music and Times of Carlos Gardel by the late Simon Collier, tango authority and Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. All 300 of Gardel's recorded songs are available on cassette and LP. There is also a 17-CD set of his songs, Su Obra Integral, and sixty of his songs are on the two-CD set, Las 60 Mejores Canciones de Carlos Gardel.