The ultimate porteño, the voice of Buenos Aires, the Creole Songbird, Carlitos fell from the sky in Medellin, Colombia on June 24, 1935. Already a Latin American superstar, Gardel was at the peak of his career and bringing Tango to the world when the plane carrying he and his band crashed, sending a wave of grief across South America and Gardel’s “pueblo” of Buenos Aires.
A lyricist and singer, Gardel brought his inner melancholy to the stage with a charisma that would later exemplify the tango song and the very essence of the Porteño culture. His fame has only grown over years. He is now known as, El que cada dia canta mejor (he who sings better every day).
Upon first hearing the radio address given by Gardel before taking off and continuing his tour, images of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens came to mind, but the grief and scandal surrounding his death may only be comparable to that of JFK or Princess Diana. 30,000 mourners swarmed the streets and Luna Park to say goodbye to their hero while scandal riveted through the capital.
Gardel’s last words amount to a goodbye to the city he so dearly loved, eerily appropriate as he continued on a world tour, representing the glory and triumph of a French-born, turned Porteño. Much like the tangos he recorded throughout his life, his words echoed the nostalgia and sadness of a passionate love for music, friendship, and longing for the city that will forever call him its hero.
The grief that followed his death was widespread and polemic. Much like Evita and Juan D. Perón, the mystery and outrageousness of the life of this popular hero is only magnified with his passing and the disturbing tale of the “life” of his remains. The myth surrounding Evita’s corpse began shortly after her passing when her body was quickly embalmed and traveled the world with a cult-like following and accompanied by a series of mysterious occurrences. Perón’s remains have been surrounded by intrigue, from the disappearance of his hands and the riots surrounding his transplantation to a memorial site.
Gardel’s tour continued after his death, as his body was sent all over the world, to sites including New York, Rio de Janeiro, and Uruguay. Many viewed his arrival to a tumultuous Buenos Aires as too much of a coincidence to be possible. The procession of his remains served to distract the people from one of the more dramatic events in Argentine political history within a period that marked the beginning of a series of military coups that would shape the nation until the return of democracy in 1983.
During a heated debate in the Senate over a protectionist policy regarding beef exports to Great Britian, Lisandro de la Torre, an out-spoken critique of the ruling government, was challenged to a duel by two opposing ministers, Federico Pinedo (Minister of Finance) and Luis Duhua (Minister of Agriculture). De la Torre granted Pinedo the gentleman’s challenge, but denied the challenge of Duhua. The political stage set here resembled the O.K. Corral more than a democratic congress. The battle over economic policy and personal offenses came to a head with violence in the Senate and subsequent duel between De la Torre and Pinedo.
The culmination of the conflict came after one of Duhua’s bodyguards had shot and killed Senator Enzo Bordabehere, who was protecting his friend, the defiant De la Torre. Instead of arming an investigation and public mourning for the death of the public servant in the house of government, the fraudulently elected President Justo chose business-as-usual and successfully distracted the press and public with the delayed return of Gardel’s remains. De la Torre, outraged and troubled by the series of unjust events, later committed suicide, leaving his mark alongside Gardel in the period known as the década infame (the infamous decade).
Gardel’s life and death embody the bittersweet, nostalgic, enjoy-it-while-you-can, gambling spirit of Tango. Today, Tango music is enjoying a revival among new generations of Argentines who now appreciate the heart-wrenching melodies and love for the city of their birth.
Mi Buenos Aires tierra florida, donde mis días terminare… Carlos Gardel, “Mi Buenos Aires querido”
To hear these songs and see the masters dance check out our guided milonga tours.
Azaretto, Juan José. Asesinato en el senado . film, 1984.
Roberto. Federico Pinedo, político y economista . Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1998.
Romero, Jose Luis. Breve Historia de la Argentina . Buenos Aires: Tierra Firme, 1996.