Carlos Gardel, the Argentine idol of the century

Carlos Gardel, the Argentine idol of the century

The “Zorzal Criollo” was already a legend when alive. After his death in a tragedy in 1935 in Colombia, he has become a true myth.

Carlos Gardel, Argentine idol

Carlos Gardel is immortal, in fact “he sings better every day“. The “Zorzal Criollo” was already a legend when alive. After his death in a tragedy in 1935 in Colombia, he has become a true myth. Carlos Gardel was 44 years old and at the top of his career, he was charming, sexy and loved by the entire world: the most important tango singer of any times. Seventy years after his death, different stories and legends are still haunting this exceptional character.

The Uruguayan legend of "El francesito"

Charles Romuald Gardes was born on December 11, 1890 in Toulouse, son of Berthe Gardes and unknown father. The name of his father has been the subject-matter of several studies and different hypothesis. Some people supported the theory that the true Gardel was born in Uruguay, from Uruguayan parents and that he replaced little Charles Romuald Gardes. One untested thesis that almost anybody claims nowadays, however, the legend is strong and you can buy it even today on the other side of Río de la Plata, remembrances of the legend “Gardel is Uruguayan”.

This story has an explanation: Gardel forged his French nationality papers and could get a fake Uruguayan birth certificate to avoid being recruited for the First World War. For many years, he himself claimed to be Uruguayan. To make things worse, a true Charles Gardes existed and died in a fight in 1914. He was Berthe’s brother.


Gardel’s father was supposed to be Paul Lasserre from Toulouse who had traveled to Buenos Aires some years later with the purpose of recognizing his children but Berthe never confirmed such story. Another source of more confusion: when Berthe Gardes arrived in Argentina, she declared her marital status was widower and, thus, she could escape from the stigma of being a single mother as she had been in France.

In March 1893, Berthe Gardes, a 27-year-old ironer, took a ship with her son towards Argentina. She arrived in Buenos Aires to join the great quantity of immigrants with the hope of a better life. They settled down in Abasto, a very popular neighborhood where the slaughterers were located. To help his mother, the child looked for coins in the neighboring cafes.

That is how he discovered the world of the “payadores”: popular singers that improvised with the guitar and dreamed to be able to sing. Charles Gardes became Carlos Gardel.

Film adaptation, 1934

As a duet with José Razzano, the “Morocho del Abasto” started to get popularity with the folk music in 1911-1912, and then in more prestigious places such as Armenonville cabaret. In 1917, they included some tangos in their repertoire. Gardel sang Mi Noche triste, and it was a success. The duet went abroad and Gardel was called the “inventor” of danced tango.

In 1928, Paris paid a tribute to Gardel, who was already singing alone and Buenos Aires high-society finally accepted this musical genre born some years before in the undergrounds. He made several movies for Paramount studios in Joinville, and in 1932 he started to work with Alfredo Le Pera, who would become his great script-writer.

Illustration of Carlos Gardel

Gardel took care of his image of a soft-voice seducer and specialist in melancholic songs. However, his sentimental life was a true mystery. It was said that he had a long relationship and even a secret marriage to someone called Isabel del Valle. In public, Gardel never admitted a love affair what led to a wide variety of rumors: that he was impotent, homosexual, a pimp, etc.

From time to time there appear allegedly children or grandchildren of the singer. In his last will and testament, he claimed to be Charles Romuald Gardes, nicknamed Carlos Gardel, born in Toulouse in 1890, son of Berthe Gardes, unmarried and with no children.

The mysteries of the Medellín accident

In 1935, Gardel began touring along America. He spent New Year’s in New York, made two films and recorded several albums and Guitarra Mía, was his last song. On June 24, at the Medellín airport’s landing strip, in Colombia, his plane crashed against another one.

The plane caught fire and there were only three survivors. One theory claimed that there was an argument inside the plane that ended up in a revolver shot which was the origin of the tragedy, besides, it would justify the bullet found in the burnt body of the idol. He was said to have received this bullet in 1915 after a fight. Another legend said that Gardel survived the accident and remained hidden in Colombia with his face disfigured… The doubtful testimonies of the survivors could never clarify the circumstances of the accident.

Gardel fresco in Buenos Aires

The body of Gardel took some time to come back to “Buenos Aires querido“. The funeral procession went along Colombia, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo first, and then to the cemetery of Chacarita in Buenos Aires, accompanied by the music of his most beautiful song: Silencio (Silence). A great statue of the “Zorzal criollo” with a smile was put up over his tomb. The cigarette on the singer’s hand is always lit up. Several plaques cover the pantheon: tributes from all over the world and gratitude for having made “miracles”.

What to read:
The website of museo casa de Carlos Gardel