Regarding Carlos Gardel, there is no unanimity about his place of birth. The Uruguayan version maintains that he was born in Tacuarembó (Uruguay), while the “French” version assures that he was born in Toulouse, France. What is certain is that he lived his childhood in Buenos Aires and in 1923 he became an Argentine national, with a Uruguayan document processed by him in Tacuarembo, in 1920, where he declared that he had been born on December 11, 1893. He bore his maternal surname Gardés and he converted it in Gardel.
In Buenos Aires, as a child Gardel lived in tenement rooms that he shared with his mother, located in the San Nicolás neighborhood: first in Uruguay 162 (house with a wide patio and iron gate), between Cangallo (today Presidente Perón) and Cuyo (today Sarmiento), and then in Corrientes 1553. Later, with his first income as a professional musician in 1914, he moved, always with his mother, to a modest apartment in Corrientes 1714.
Only in 1927 did Gardel buy a house in the Abasto neighborhood, at 735 Jean Jaures Street in the Balvanera neighborhood, which is still preserved today as the Carlos Gardel House Museum.
The neighborhood in which Gardel grew up is the area of Buenos Aires theaters that has its axis on Corrientes Street, later transformed into an avenue. This allowed him from a very young age to be in contact with the theatrical world. Carlitos walked around the stages, went up and down sets, walked around the props, bringing furniture in and out of the scene, while he accompanied what the orchestra was playing with his voice.
In the “O’Rondemán” café, on Agüero and Humahuaca, in front of the Mercado del Abasto, he met with his friends and began to sing before the public. The figure of Gardel begins to be familiar to all the people around El Abasto, along with his songs. His singing was the serenade of the entire neighborhood. And he was known as “the black man of Abasto.”
In 1911, Carlos Gardel and the Uruguayan José Razzano, El Oriental, met, with whom they formed a duo until 1925. In his Memoirs, Razzano located that meeting at a friend's house located on Guardia Vieja Street, a few meters from the Mercado de Abasto. Years later that part of the street, between Jean Jaurés and Anchorena, will be renamed Pasaje Carlos Gardel.
Barsky, Osvaldo; Barsky, Julián (2004). Gardel, la biografía. Buenos Aires: Taurus
In 1917 Gardel sang and recorded a tango for the first time. It was the tango “Mi noche triste”, a musical song composed by Samuel Castriota titled “Lita” to which Pascual Contursi had given lyrics. Gardel's interpretation of this song is considered the date of birth of tango song: after decades of evolution, tango had begun to find singers and lyricists capable of interpreting the same emotional consonance that tango music and dance already expressed.
The appearance of Gardel-Razzano's records marked the beginning of the growing demand for these reproductions and the subsequent hiring of other performers of popular music and songs. In this way the flowering of this industry began.
Gardel's voice and way of singing evolved as he became a tango singer. Gardel takes advantage of his origins in the field of payada and his taste for the Neapolitan canzonetta and opera, to develop a slower, serious, melancholic and less anxious song, characterized by an emotional interpretation that linked it to the feelings of the listener. A few years after his triumphant start, he began studying singing professionally. Those classes also instilled in him good diction and a technique that effortlessly regulated the emission of his voice.
The successes of the Gardel-Razzano duo grew exponentially. In 1923 the duo had the opportunity to make their first tour to Europe, specifically to Spain, accompanying the theater company headed by the actress Matilde Rivera and her husband, the actor Enrique de Rosas. As a stage strategy derived from the international stereotype of Argentina, theater entrepreneurs insisted that musicians appear dressed as gauchos, although in Buenos Aires they performed dressed in tuxedos. For that reason, before leaving, a new series of photos were taken in Montevideo with José María Silva (who would be his favorite photographer), dressed as gauchos. They debuted on December 10 at the Teatro Apolo in Madrid, performing with their two guitarists as the "end of the party", after the dramatic performance that the company performed every night. The reviews about the duo were good and after forty performances, they left the company to go to France.
Upon their return, by special request, the duo made the first transmission from Radio Splendid, on September 30, 1924, in the early days of radiotelephony. This helped promote the public's love for radio. Gardel's last radio intervention, live, was in 1933, from Radio Belgrano, before what would have been his final departure from Buenos Aires.
In September 1925, after 12 years of singing together and due to Razzano's larynx injury, the duo decided to separate, leaving Razzano to carry out business functions.
Then Gardel began to venture into cinema, on a trip to Europe in 1930, Gardel suggested to the playwrights Manuel Romero and Luis Bayón Herrera that they film a film with an Argentine theme. They write the plot of “Luces de Buenos Aires”, starring Gardel with prominent roles by Sofía Bozán and Pedro Quartucci. Filming took place on the sets that the Paramount company had in Joinville, near Paris, but paradoxically, no scene was filmed in Argentina.
Due to its success, the company sent copies to other countries. In Spain and America the public interrupted the showing of the film, after Gardel sang the tango “Tomo y obligo”, asking to hear it again. An event that has never occurred in the history of cinema.
In 1932 Paramount hired him for two more productions. In the same studios he films “Melodía de Arrabal” and later, in New York, “Cuesta Abajo”. Subsequently, they hired him for three more films: “El tango en Broadway”, “El día que me siempre” and “Tango Bar”. That same year, the Paramount studios in France closed due to the great global economic depression of 1929. But Gardel's career began to recover when he signed his contract with NBC in New York. On the walls and columns of the Ground Floor of Rockefeller Center in New York you can read the history of the building, inaugurated in 1933 and previously called “The RCA Building”. The famous NBC network has its place in the building and the image of Carlos Gardel accompanies the history of NBC.
Carlos Gardel can also be considered a precursor in the making of sound music videos or short films, as they were known at that time. In 1930 he starred in fifteen, each about a song, directed by Eduardo Morera and produced by Federico Valle, but ten were released, since five were ruined in the laboratory. They are: “El cartero”, “Añoranzas”, “Autumn roses”, “Hand in hand”, “Yira yira”, “I'm afraid”, “Padrino pelao”, “Encase the mandolin”, “Canchero” and “ “Old tuxedo.”
On March 28, 1935, he began a Latin American tour from New York that took him to Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Aruba, Curacao, Colombia, Panama, Cuba and Mexico. He is accompanied, among others, by Alfredo Le Pera (author of the lyrics of many of his tangos), his guitarists Guillermo Barbieri, José María Aguilar and Angel Domingo Riverol.
Medellín hails him and all of Colombia calls him “The King of Tango”. Forebodingly, a pamphlet published in Bogotá carried the title “Last days of Carlos Gardel”, written by the Colombian theater entrepreneur Nicolás Diaz, who promoted his performance in the capital city.
At 11 in the morning on Monday, June 24, 1935, Gardel and his traveling companions met in the rooms of the Hotel Granada, ready to leave for Cali on an express plane. Gardel was more happy, active and mobile than anyone else because he was anxiously awaiting the end of that tour to later return to Argentina, where he wanted to form his own production company. A crowd gathered at the doors of the hotel and photographers took what would be the last photos of him.
A crash of two planes at the Medellín airport cut short the last presentation of the tour and the expected return of Carlos Gardel to Buenos Aires. The plane in which Gardel was traveling, a Ford trimotor from the SACO company, deviated in the middle of the takeoff taxi and hit another similar plane from the German company SCADTA, which was waiting its turn to take off, both catching fire. The court decided that the causes of the accident were due to the characteristics of the runway and a strong wind coming from the southeast.
Every June 24, the “Day of the National Singer” is commemorated in our country, proclaimed by law 23976 of 1991, whose celebration coincides with the anniversary of the death of the greatest exponent in the history of tango.
In 2003, Gardel's voice was registered by UNESCO in the Memory of the World program, dedicated to the preservation of documents belonging to the historical heritage of the peoples of the world. Every time his voice is referred to and I remember him, the phrase is spontaneously reiterated: "every day he sings better."