María Elena Walsh was born on February 1, 1930 in Buenos Aires. Her first years were spent in a house located on Calle 3 de Febrero number 547, in Villa Sarmiento, in the Morón district. Later the family would move to Ramos Mejía, where a good part of Maria Elena's childhood passed.
She was the daughter of Enrique Walsh, an English railway employee who worked as chief accountant of the accounting department of the New Western Railway of Buenos Aires and who played the piano very well. Her mother was Lucía Elena Monsalvo, Argentine, daughter of an Argentine father and an Andalusian mother. She had married her father for the second time and they had two daughters together, Susana and María Elena. That is to say, they were a family of four older men, children from her father's first marriage, and a sister, five years older than María Elena.
María Elena's London grandparents, David and Agnes Hoare, had arrived in the country in 1872. María Elena was raised in a large house in the town of Ramos Mejía, in Greater Buenos Aires, with patios, a chicken coop, rose bushes, cats, lemon trees, orange trees and a fig tree. In that environment, greater freedom of creation emanated compared to the traditional middle-class education of the time. The song “Fideos Finos” and her first novel “Novios de antaño” (1990), with autobiographical roots, are dedicated to recounting and reconstructing her memories from her childhood.
Like every middle-class child in that decade, Walsh grew up between two opposite environments: on the one hand, the rigors of a school with authoritarian overtones, and, on the other, great freedom at home, with happy vacations, added to the wonder of the first mass media, which incorporated the best of popular culture. Infinite tango or jazz auditions, comedy programs like those of the great Niní Marshall (whom María Elena would call many years later “our Cervanta”) were listened to attentively at the foot of a large family radio. They were also the years of the beginning of talkies and “musicals”, the great novelty: Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Nelson Eddy and Shirley Temple, actors, dancers and singers who were María Elena's first idols.
Since she was a child, Walsh was interested in letters and poetry. It was no surprise that, when the time came to choose a secondary school, Walsh preferred the Manuel Belgrano School of Fine Arts, located at that time on Talcahuano Street, between Arenales and Santa Fé Avenue, in Barrio Norte.
At the age of 15 she published her first poem in a magazine, and two years later, after the death of her father, her first book called “Unforgivable Autumn” (1947). This work was praised by great literary figures such as Jorge Luis Borges and Silvina Ocampo, and was sponsored by Juan Ramón Jiménez, who invited her to settle in the United States for a while. The experience was not easy for the author, as she recounted on several occasions. However, this trip was the first of a series of journeys that would lead to her training as a writer.
Back in Buenos Aires, Walsh published a new book, “Ballads with Angel” (1951). After a brief period in which she taught English, overwhelmed by the political situation, she decided to embark on the adventure of emigrating to Europe. She did it together with a friend from Tucumán, Leda Valladares, also a poet, who at that time lived in Costa Rica. They met in Central America and embarked on the freighter Queen of the Pacific. During the trip to Europe they formed the vocal duo Leda y María, dedicated almost exclusively to singing traditional songs from the Argentine Northwest.
From the nightclubs of Paris to the intellectual depths, “Leda et Marie” managed to become one of the most original artistic proposals of those years. At the same time, around 1954, in that “varietés” environment, María Elena Walsh began to write her first poems “for children”, which she set to music almost naturally. The lyricism, the rhythmic perfection of these first songs (which she would compile years later in the book “Tutú Marambá”) are the same as “Otoño unforgivable”. But the new lessons of folklore are in them: the sense of play, their tendency to absurd humor (British nonsense), which were born to remain, definitively, in popular memory.
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In another aspect, like no other work in Spanish, María Elena Walsh's children's songs refer to the memory of nursery rhymes and limericks, those crazy poems that her father, Don Enrique, sang to her even before María Elena learned to read.
In 1956 Leda and María decided to return to Argentina. After a few months of traveling, performing and collecting songs through the provinces of Northwestern Argentina, they settled in Buenos Aires, performed in theater and television and recorded their three best albums, the last a perpetual best seller dedicated to Spanish folklore: “Canciones from the time of Maricastaña.” At the same time, they felt that a cycle was closing, and each one began to look for other jobs.
In 1958, the young television director María Herminia Avellaneda encouraged María Elena to write her first scripts for teletheater or children's programs. In this way, Walsh perceived the happiness of seeing the characters of her songs, “Doña Disparate” or “Rey Bombo”, take shape, and this was perhaps the driving force behind the new success: “varieté” for children.
This great project was an artistic product that allowed María Elena Walsh to express her multiple talents. “Songs to Look at” (1962) is a series of musical paintings, led by monologues or small comedy steps that show how much Walsh had learned about the art of mimicry and juggling. “Doña Disparate y Bambuco” (1963) is already a play with incidental songs, a completely revolutionary and avant-garde piece, very close to “Alice in Wonderland” by his admired Lewis Carroll.
The extraordinary success of the two shows meant for María Elena Walsh the consecration and consolidation of her project. The big recording companies that had systematically rejected her songs called her to record her first albums as a soloist: “Canciones para Mirar”, “Canciones para mí”, “El País del Nomeagrado” and “Villancicos”, which since then have had their place in almost all houses with children. For a few years, Walsh devoted herself almost entirely to writing new books for children, such as “Crazy Zoo” (1965), a collection of limericks that is perhaps her masterpiece; but also fiction books such as the novel “Dailan Kifki”, or the “Cuentopos de Gulubú” or the “Cuentopos para el recreo”, which she also took to record, a medium in which she showed another new facet: that of an excellent oral narrator.
But María Elena did not forget her love for writing, and in 1965 she published “Hecho a mano”, a book of poems that became a boom due to the topicality of its problems and its poetic quality.
In 1968, Walsh premiered his first adult song show “Let's Play in the World.” “Recital for executives”, at the Regina Theater, with enormous impact and success among the public and critics. From there, she created a repertoire imbued with the rebellious air of the times, pacifism, feminism, “protest” against social injustice, but showing a unique poetic talent and, above all, an absolutely personal and disconcerting theme. The Recital was repeated in venues as diverse as the San Martín Municipal Theater, the Maipo, the Luna Park and halls in the main cities of the interior, as well as in countries in America and Europe.
Then, a film by María Herminia Avellaneda, from 1971, and six long-playing albums remain as testimony to this stretch of her minstrel career that ended in 1978, in the middle of the military dictatorship, when she decided to permanently leave theatrical presentations, fed up with the obstacles. of censorship.
Taking refuge in written journalism, and in the darkest part of that dark time, she wrote articles such as the famous “Misadventures in Kindergarten-Country”, which earned her the admiration of the public for her civic courage, this essay is published in Clarín, bypassing military censorship. Walsh used metaphors about the situation of the country and its authorities who treated society like children who could not distinguish good from evil.
In addition, she made several travel chronicles through Europe and America together with the photographer Sara Facio. It was during the time of her journalistic chronicles that her opinion was most expressed regarding current issues such as music, literature, but also politics and feminism. Walsh collaborated in El Hogar Magazine, Realidad Magazine, La mujer y el cine Magazine, in Revista Sur, in La Nación, Clarín and in Humor, among many other publications.
In 1981 María Elena fell ill with cancer, but by 1983, after a prolonged period of treatment, she was already cured and ready to face a long rehabilitation process and a new phase in her work. Committed to the restoration of democracy in the most diverse areas, she participated more or less directly in political projects, finally arriving at the transformation of her union de ella, the Argentine Society of Authors and Composers, SADAIC, located at Lavalle 1547 in the Almagro neighborhood. , where her contribution to the Cultural Department was decisive.
The recovered democracy also allowed her to express her ideas on television, where she created a broadcast together with Susana Rinaldi and María Herminia Avellaneda, called “La cigarra”, on the then Channel 11.
Beyond an endless number of texts written for television or commissioned by composers such as Ariel Ramírez, Jairo, Lito Vitale, and Chico Novarro, María Elena Walsh did not stop expanding the list with literary works as important as “Novios de antaño” (1991 ), cited above, an autobiographical novel about his childhood. She, too, did not abandon children's novels and published, in 2008, in book form, the original theatrical version of “Canciones para mira” and “Doña Disparate y Bambuco.” She also presented her latest book “Ghosts in the Park.” A very original mix of novel and autobiography, in which she confesses nightmares, dreams and secrets with her unmistakable lucid, ironic, honest and beautiful style.
María Elena Walsh has received in her lifetime, since 1947 and post-mortem, countless recognitions, tributes and awards, in Argentina and abroad, such as the appointment of Illustrious Citizen of the City of Buenos Aires; Honoris Causa Doctor from the University of Córdoba; the Konex Platinum and Honor Award in Letters; the Highly Commended of the Hans Christian Andersen Award from the IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) or the Honor Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
She died in Buenos Aires on January 10, 2011, leaving an immense legacy for new generations. Her remains rest in the SADAIC Pantheon in the Chacarita cemetery, Buenos Aires.