Lágrima Ríos

Real name: Benavídez Tabárez, Lida Melba
Nicknames: La Perla Negra, La Dama del Candombe
(26 September 1924 - 25 December 2006)
Place of birth:
Durazno (Durazno) Uruguay
Ricardo García Blaya

his wonderful female singer was born in Uruguay, in the county of Durazno and represents the noblest essence of the Negro and halfbreed song which we so much appreciate and recognize in Latin American music.

The genre or the nacionality are not important, not even the skin color, that quality is present in the Mexican bolero, in the Cuban son, in the Brazilian samba, in the Peruvian waltz, in Argentine tango and in the music of the River Plate area. In other words, in female singers of the level of Fetiche, Chabela Vargas, Olga Guillot, Alcione and Tita Merello.

Lágrima sang in a simple way, as it had to be sung, with good intonation and taste, without exaggerations, with subtle overtones and interpreting a believable feeling, telling stories that may have been hers. She included a repertory that rescues the most beautiful numbers of our tango and she was the promoter of the Uruguayan beat par excellence, candombe.

In an interview with the Argentine journalist María Moreno in 2005, one year before her death, she portraits herself:

«I realize that I sing in a different way, but not only because of my vocal timbre but also because of the way I perform. I’ve always been an alto singer and especially now I am. It’s a vocal range quite common in the black community. They say we have the vocal cords a bit thicker than white people. Furthermore I have a special bone structure, ribs pointing out, then my chest is a chamber of resonance. I reach the treble tones but that it’s hard to me. For that reason when I sing I try to start in a tonality that when I have to sing a high note I won’t fail or sound strained, as if I were forcing my throat».

Her recordings show two opposing stages. Her youth evidenced in Lágrima Ríos, la Perla Negra del Tango, of 1972, with all her expressive freshness and, after a break in her tango output, the charm of her now mature voice and her experience is heard in the recordings of the mid-nineties.

Her story is one of common people, the one which generally does not stand out. With an additional drama: she was an unmarried mother and her only son emmigrated to Sweden and she did not see him for many years.

As a child she arrived in Montevideo with her mother, and settled in the Barrio Sur. Among the unforgettable memories of her chilhood she recalls having met Carlos Gardel in 1928 when the singer visited her neighborhood and went to the tenement house where she lived.

Her debut was in 1942, performing folk songs and tangos. In 1945 Alberto Mastra made her join his famous trio and definitively gave her her sobriquet.

In the carnival season of 1950 she was member of the group Añoranzas Negras which was awarded the first prize in its category and also she joined the Cruzada Gaucha with which she toured Uruguay and Argentina.

She turned out the winner of a contest organized by the La Tribuna Popular newspaper and the radio station CX24 La Voz del Aire (1956) and on the last day she sang the tango “Sin lágrimas”. Because of that she was hired by the radio station to sing with the orchestra fronted by Orosmán Fernández, aka Gato. Soon thereafter she became a well-known figure in night venues, among which the mythical Teluria stands out. There she shared the billboard with Jorge Cafrune, Mercedes Sosa, Horacio Guarany and others.

In 1960 she formed an a capella vocal group with Benito and Raúl Ramos, Luis Alberto Gómez and Juan Sequeira. In the above mentioned interview she commented:

«We started by singing Negro spirituals. But we didn’t know what name would the group have. Then the poet Ovidio Fernández Ríos told us: “What about the name Brindis de Sala?”. “Brindis de Sala? (Hall toast) How ugly!”. We thought he was alluding to a toast in a hall. But he explained to us: Claudio Brindis de Salas was a Cuban violinist that played throughout Europe and he was called The Black Paganini. In 1910 he was found dead on the Paseo de Julio of Buenos Aires. He was wrapped in an old overcoat. He froze to death. In a small pocket they found a pawn ticket for his Stradivarius».

They performed for 10 years and recorded for Philips and Clave.

In the carnival of that year she went on harvesting first prices with the groups: Morenada, Miscelánea Negra and Palán Palán. With the first one she traveled to Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina where she recorded for the Odeon label and was starred alongside Hugo Del Carril, Luis Sandrini and Palito Ortega in two motion pictures: Fantoche and Viva la vida.

After a time without work, in 1971 she appeared singing in the television program Sábados de Tango, and since then she never ceased appearing at the best night venues along with stars like Aníbal Troilo, Roberto Goyeneche, Roberto Rufino and Héctor Mauré.

In 1972 she recorded her first long-playing disc, the above mentioned Lágrima Ríos, la Perla Negra del Tango, accompanied by a guitar group. Later she traveled to Buenos Aires and was the first Uruguayan hired by La Casa de Gardel on Jean Jaurés Street, the house where El Zorzal lived.

In 1976 for RCA-Victor she cut the first stereophonic record which included twelve candombes by Uruguayan composers, Luna y tamboriles.

In 1982 she was based in Madrid and sang throughout the peninsula and appeared at the Festival Internacional de Huelva. In 1989 she released Mamá Isabel for the Orfeo label.

She appeared at the Teatro Solís of Montevideo and at the Teatro San Martín of Buenos Aires. Later she returned to Europe and appeared in England at the Royal Albert Hall of London. Thereafter in 1993 she appeared at the Festival de Tango of Granada with a Uruguayan group led by the guitarist Daniel Petruchelli.

In 1995 the organization Mundoafro, devoted to fight against racism, chose her as its president. In such a position she toured Europe, along with the keyboardist Duglas Castillo, blending work with recitals.

In 1996 she recorded the disc Cantando sueños. Later she appeared with her group conducted by Walter Díaz and recorded Canción para mi pueblo, also with Petruchelli.

In the carnival of 1999 she again was awarded the first prize and was appointed the Best Figure because of her career. She was as well invited to appear as guest artist in the disc Candombe.

The Academia Nacional de Tango de Uruguay appointed her as honorary member. This was the first time a woman was honored like that.

She appeared to great acclaim at the show of the actor Fernando Peña La Lágrima de la Mega staged at the Paseo La Plaza of Buenos Aires.

She was starred in Candombe, a documentary shot by the painter Carlos Páez Vilaró. She went to Durban, South Africa, as representative of Mundoafro for the World Conference about Racism and Xenophobia. She sang in Sweden and she is the first Uruguayan black woman that appeared at the La Sorbonne of Paris.

In 2002 she traveled again to the «City of Light» where she was appointed Protectress of the Festival of Latin American Music.

Before her death she had her place in the film El Café de los Maestros alongside the living myths of tango, among them: Virginia Luque, Horacio Salgán and Mariano Mores.