Haydée Mercedes Sosa
(9 July 1935 – 4 October 2009), known as La Negra
(literally: The Black One
), was an Argentine singer who was popular throughout Latin America and many countries outside the continent. With her roots in Argentine folk music, Sosa became one of the preeminent exponents of nueva canción. She gave voice to songs written by both Brazilians and Cubans. She was best known as the "voice of the voiceless ones".Sosa performed in venues such as the Lincoln Center in New York City, the Théâtre Mogador in Paris and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, as well as sell-out shows in New York's Carnegie Hall and the Roman Colosseum during her final decade of life. Her career spanned four decades and she was the recipient of several Grammy awards and nominations, including a posthumous Latin Grammy award for Best Folk Album. She served as an ambassador for UNICEF.
Sosa was born on 9 July 1935, in San Miguel de Tucumán, in the northwestern Argentine province of Tucumán, of mestizo, French, and Diaguita Amerindian ancestry. In 1950, at age fifteen, she won a singing competition organized by a local radio station and was given a contract to perform for two months. She recorded her first album, La Voz de la Zafra
, in 1959. A performance at the 1965 Cosquín National Folklore Festival—where she was introduced and brought to the stage while sitting in the audience by fellow folk singer Jorge Cafrune— brought her to the attention of her native countrypeople.Sosa and her first husband, Manuel Óscar Matus, with whom she had one son, were key players in the mid-60s nueva canción movement (which was called nuevo cancionero
in Argentina). Her second record was Canciones con Fundamento
, a collection of Argentine folk songs.In 1967, Sosa toured the United States and Europe with great success. In later years, she performed and recorded extensively, broadening her repertoire to include material from throughout Latin America.In the early 1970s, Sosa released two concept albums in collaboration with composer Ariel Ramírez and lyricist Félix Luna: Cantata Sudamericana
and Mujeres Argentinas
(Argentine Women). She also recorded a tribute to Chilean poet Violeta Parra in 1971, including what was to become one of Sosa's signature songs, Gracias a la Vida
. She also increased the popularity of songs written by Milton Nascimento of Brazil and Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez both from Cuba.After the military junta of Jorge Videla came to power in 1976, the atmosphere in Argentina grew increasingly oppressive. At a concert in La Plata in 1979, Sosa was searched and arrested on stage, along with all those attending the concert. Their release came about through international intervention. Banned in her own country, she moved to Paris and then to Madrid. Her second husband died in 1978.Sosa returned to Argentina in 1982, several months before the military regime collapsed as a result of the Falklands War, and gave a series of concerts at the Opera theatre in Buenos Aires, where she invited many of her younger colleagues to share the stage. A double album of recordings from these performances became an instant best seller. In subsequent years, Sosa continued to tour both in Argentina and abroad, performing in such venues as the Lincoln Center in New York and the Théâtre Mogador in Paris. In a poor condition of health for much of the 1990s, she performed a comeback show in Argentina in 1998. In 1994, she played the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. In 2002, she sold out both Carnegie Hall in New York and the Colosseum in Rome in the same year.A supporter of Perón in her youth, she favored leftist causes throughout her life. She opposed President Carlos Menem, who was in office from 1989 to 1999, and supported the election of Néstor Kirchner, who became president in 2003. Sosa was a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Latin America and the Caribbean.In a career spanning of four decades, she worked with performers across several genres and generations, folk, opera, pop, rock, including Lucio Dalla, Nana Mouskouri, Maria Farantouri, Andrea Bocelli, Holly Near, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Milton Nascimento, Fito Páez, Caetano Veloso, Joan Manuel Serrat, Chico Buarque, Gal Costa, Gian Marco, Konstantin Wecker, Lourdes Pérez, Nilda Fernández, Pata Negra, David Broza, Franco Battiato, Luz Casal, Ismael Serrano, Charly Garcia, Joan Baez, Luciano Pavarotti, Shakira, Lila Downs, Julieta Venegas, Martha Argerich, Francis Cabrel and Sting.Sosa participated in a 1999 production of Ariel Ramírez's Misa Criolla
. Her song Balderrama
is featured in the 2008 movie Che
, starring Benicio del Toro as the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
She won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Folk Album in 2000 ("Misa Criolla"), 2003 ("Acústico"), and 2006 ("Corazón Libre"), as well as many international awards.In 1995, Konex Foundation from Argentina granted her the Diamond Konex Award, one of the most prestigious awards in Argentina, as the most important personality in the Popular Music of her country in the last decade.Her album Cantora 1
won two awards at the Latin Grammy Awards of 2009. She won Best Folk Album and was nominated for Album of the Year. The album was also awarded Best Recording Package.
Suffering from recurrent endocrine and respiratory problems in later years, the 74-year-old Sosa was hospitalized in Buenos Aires on September 18, 2009. She died from multiple organ failure on October 4, 2009, at 5:15 am. She is survived by one son, Fabián Matus, born during the first marriage. He said: "She lived her 74 years to the fullest. She had done practically everything she wanted, she didn't have any type of barrier or any type of fear that limited her". The hospital expressed its sympathies with her relations. Her website featured the following: "Her undisputed talent, her honesty and her profound convictions leave a great legacy to future generations".Her body was placed on display at the National Congress building in Buenos Aires for the public to pay their respects, and President Fernández de Kirchner ordered three days of national mourning. Thousands had queued by the end of the day. She was cremated on October 5.Sosa's obituary in The Daily Telegraph
said she was "an unrivalled interpreter of works by her compatriot, the Argentinian Atahualpa Yupanqui, and Chile's Violeta Parra". Helen Popper of Reuters reported her death by saying she "fought South America's dictators with her voice and became a giant of contemporary Latin American music". Sosa received three Latin Grammy nominations for her album, in 2009 . She went on to win Best Folk Album about a month after her death.