Paquita Bernardo

Real name: Bernardo, Francisca
Nicknames: La Flor de Villa Crespo
Bandoneonist and composer
(1 May 1900 - 14 April 1925)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Guadalupe Aballe

he almost does not need to be introduced, there are few figures in the history of tango that as soon as their names are mentioned they are recognized. Immediately, we recall the image of a young girl, in a man’s suit and with a bandoneon resting on her knees. She was the first Argentine professional bandoneonist. Daughter of Spanish immigrants, José María Bernardo and María Jiménez, a fate rather unusual for a woman in the beginnings of the twentieth century awaited Francisca. A brilliant fate and yet sad, if we consider her successful career and her premature death.

In 1915, when she was a teenager started to study piano at a conservatory along with Catalina Torres. But as José Servidio was one of Paquita’s fellow students she finally switched from piano to bandoneon. She thoroughly devoted herself to learn it with the method of the great musician and teacher Augusto Berto.

This decision of following her vocation makes us meditate about her character and her firmness; a girl ready to challenge taboos, break down barriers, in order to free her true musical inclination. Those were hard times, it was a time when the morals of a woman were criticized because of attitudes like the one mentioned above.

Paquita was a firm and brave woman like her contemporaries Alfonsina Storni and Delmira Agustini were in the world of literature.

At a young age she managed to master bandoneon playing and she accompanied José Junnissi at shows to raise funds in the nearby neighborhoods. But one day her fame reached the downtown area.

In 1921 she played at the Bar Domínguez, located on 1537 Corrientes Street, with her sextet called Orquesta Paquita, along with Osvaldo Pugliese, Elvino Vardaro, Alcides Palavecino, Miguel Loduca and Arturo Bernardo, her brother. They were all young players like she was. There she premiered her tango “Floreal”. As a funny anecdote let us remember that the police was forced to deviate the traffic from Corrientes to Paraná, because there was a crowd eager to hear her.

In 1923 she appeared at the Gran Fiesta del Tango organized by the Sociedad de Compositores (Composers’ Society) at the Teatro Coliseo; she was the only woman among a hundred musicians.

It’s a pity she left no recordings, but instead of her records we keep her oeuvre. Paquita was a good composer and many great artists committed her pieces to record. For example we can mention Roberto Firpo who recorded “Cachito”, and the one and only, Carlos Gardel, recorded two of her compositions: “La enmascarada”, with lyrics by Francisco García Jiménez and “Soñando”, with lyrics by Eugenio Cárdenas. The latter tune was awarded at the first tango contest organized by Odeon and Max Glucksman at the Teatro Gran Splendid.

She appeared at the opening of Radio Cultura playing tangos, accompanied by maestro José Tanga. During 1923 and 1924 she continued with her prolific career and performed at the barrooms, La Paloma, Domínguez mentioned above and, in the summer season, at La glorieta of Villa Crespo and at the terrace of the Balneario Municipal (riverside resort).

Our dear neighbors of the opposite river bank had the chance of hearing her play in October 1923 when she appeared at the Confitería 18 de Julio in Montevideo, At that city she composed her waltz “Divino cerro”.

On December 10, 1924, she made her debut at the Smart theater with the theater company headed by Blanca Podestá and played until the end of February 1925 with José Tanga, Manuel Vicente, Bartolo López, Miguel Le Duca, Arturo Bernardo. There she also accompanied the singer Florindo Ferrario.

The public loyal to her was always on her side and followed her wherever she appeared. She neither knew decline nor failure. Nor old age.

Like Alfonsina and Delmira she passed away very soon, when she still has a lot to give us. Even though death seized each of them on different circumstances —Delmira was murdered at a hotel room after an appointment, Alfonsina surrendered herself to the sea voluntarily and Paquita succumbed to an illness—, to the three, the unexpected end brought a special halo to their already mythical figures.

A little before her twenty-fifth birthday she died in the neighborhood where she was born: Villa Crespo. She did not die of tuberculosis as the urban legend spread but of a bad cold not well treated that derived into serious complications.

Today Paquita lives in our memory and so will be for ever.