Parra was born in San Carlos, Ñuble Province, a small town in southern Chile on 4 October 1917. She was involved in the progressive movement and the Communist Party of Chile. She revived the Peña
(now known as La Peña de Los Parra
), a community center for the arts and for political activism. Some think she established the first 'peña' but according to the records of the Royal Academy of Spanish Language, places such as these had been called that since 1936 (RAE).Violeta Parra was a member of the prolific Parra family. Among her brothers were the notable modern poet, better known as the "anti-poet", Nicanor Parra and fellow folklorist Roberto Parra. Her son, Ángel Parra, and her daughter, Isabel Parra, are also important figures in the development of the Nueva Canción Chilena
. Their children have also mostly maintained the family's artistic traditions.In 1967 Violeta Parra committed suicide by a gunshot to her head. She had previously been romantically involved with Swiss flautist Gilbert Favre.
Gracias a la vida
Her most renowned song, Gracias a la Vida
(Thanks to Life), was popularized throughout Latin America by Mercedes Sosa, in Brazil by Elis Regina and later in the US by Joan Baez. It remains one of the most covered Latin American songs in history. Other notable covers of this tragic, but widely beloved, folk anthem include the Italian guitar-vocal solo of Adriana Mezzadri and La Oreja de Van Gogh at the 2005 Viña del Mar International Song Festival.It has been treated by classically trained musicians such as in the fully orchestrated rendition by conservatory-trained Alberto Cortez.The song has been re-recorded by several Latin artists and Canadian Michael Bublé to gather funds for the Chilean people affected by the earthquake in Chile, February 2010.It opens with a very common shift between A minor and E major chords, then it goes to G7-C/C7 before returning to the Am/E motif."Gracias a la vida" was written and recorded following Parra's separation with her long-time partner and shortly before she took her own life. Parra's lyricism is ambiguous; at face value, Parra's lyricism may be read as a romantic celebration of life and individual experience, however the circumstances surrounding the song suggest that Parra also intended the song as a sort of suicide note, thanking life for all it has given her. It may even be read as ironic, pointing out that a life full of good health, opportunity and worldly experience may not offer any consolation to grief and the contradictory nature of the human condition.The song opens with a simple strumming at a leisurely tempo and exploits the poetic beauty of the Spanish language with consummate skill.Translated into English the lyrical sentiment and ambiguity is best conveyed by personifying life;And the closing refrain "Gracias a la vida",Another highly regarded original, "Volver a los Diecisiete" ("Being Seventeen Again") similarly celebrates the themes of youthful life, in tragic contrast to her biography. Unlike much popular music, it moves through minor key progression creating an introspective if not melancholy mood and thus has lent itself to classical treatment as well as popular music. Despite its originality, Parra's music was deeply rooted in folk song traditions, as is the case with Nueva Canción in general.