Sunday, October 4, 2009

In Memoriam: Mercedes Sosa

The great Argentinian folk singer and activist Mercedes Sosa passed away this morning at age 74. Her body will lie in state in the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos, in the Argentinian Congress, starting at mid-day today for viewing.

Her family posted the following letter on her Web site:

We are the grandchildren, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, the son of she who was to us something more and other than a great popular artist. With her we shared life's private joys and anguish. Because this great artist was also our grandmother, our sister, our aunt, our mother. That's why we come to you from that intimate place, away from the severity and harshness of the official statements: because we know that you loved and continue to love her as much more than the singer and the artist who accompanied you so many times, whom you made part of your family even without blood ties.

It is from this place that we want to tell you that Mercedes — mother, aunt, grandmother, sister — left this world today. But we also want to tell you that she was always accompanied — even when she could no longer realize it — by an endless parade of friends and folk artists, and in each one of them, by you. And despite the sadness of any dying, she spent those last moments in peace, fighting valiantly against death that won the tug of war in the end.

Of course we are moved and want to share with you this sadness. Though at the same time, we have the reassurance that all did their best — including our Negra — to stay a little longer with us.

What made Mercedes happiest was singing. And surely she would have liked to sing for you at the end too. So that's how we want to remember her and we invite you to do so with us.

Thank you so much for this accompaniment that never ceased to be present.

A lot of people are probably going to post videos of Mercedes singing "Gracias a La Vida" as a tribute. She made this song by Chilean singer/songwriter Violeta Parra her own, as Chile's President Michelle Bachelet reminded us the other day. I like this version where Mercedes Sosa shares the stage with her American counterpart Joan Baez with whom she often sang. They have different ways of interpreting the song and at first it seems jarring but gradually a companionable spirit emerges between the two women that symbolizes the way Mercedes always worked with others — she always ruled the stage naturally, effortlessly, while being generous with her collaborators.

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