Néstor Pinsón

Who was the first woman that recorded tangos?

o establish who the first lady that recorded tangos was turns out an arid subject. The research about it does not bring clarity to elucidate this issue. In general, opinions are given because somebody said it or because we muse about a possibility or because fabrications and fallacies are spread even though the authors had added nothing of their own harvest. There is not even a serious research.

Some research works mention, without too much conviction, the female singer Linda Thelma. But later it was found out that she was not. The dates did not match.

Others, rather firmly, state that the first one was Pepita Avellaneda, sobriquet used by Josefa Calatti (1875-1951), also an Argentine like Linda Thelma. This artist, nearer our time —in her latter years, after quitting show business—, was in charge of the ladies’ cloakroom at the famous Cabaret Chantecler on 400 Paraná Street.

In the late 1999 Hugo Lamas died before he was 60 years old. He was an outstanding researcher. His longtime hobby led him to get, by different means, practically all the graphic material published in our country, whether in newspapers, magazines or in any kind of journal of all times.

He also photocopied old police record files, those handwritten with some ink blobs and spelling mistakes. He collected data of all the subjects he was interested in concerning our country, music and, especially, tango. He filled up about over 250.000 data cards that he kept in a very careful way. With a small part of them Héctor Lucci published the book El tango en la sociedad porteña, 1880-1920, that he wrote with Enrique Binda’s contribution. In it all the information given is backed by the media where they were originally published and their date.

So we came to know that Pepita Avellaneda’s name appears in a police document drawn up on December 19, 1894 that verbatim says: «On 9 written pages I send you a summary drawn up due to the denunciation made to this police station by the medical doctor of this institution, Eudoro Cisneros, who had been called from the house located on 1343 Cangallo Street to see a young sick woman who was intoxicated because she had drunk a phosphorus solution in water. Immediately after receiving the denunciation I went to the above mentioned house and, talking to her, I knew her name was Josefa Avellaneda, Argentine, age 20, single, choir girl, white race, that reads and is domiciled on 56 Talcahuano Street, room Nº 23, where she lived as concubine with a man named Antonio Reynoso, leader of the orchestra of the Teatro La Comedia». As for the reason of her determination she explained to the official: «I cannot explain to myself how I have done this. For several days I have been experiencing an incomprehensible discomfort, I felt like crying for no reason at all and, on the 12th in the evening, when I was alone in my room, I decided to commit suicide...». (Page 253 of the above book).

In the tango milieu, people used to say she was one of the first women that sang very simple lyrics and, in some case, she was accompanied by a tango melody. Her show business life may have started in Montevideo in 1899, by dancing and reciting stanzas. Thereafter her name appears in Buenos Aires, dancing at the old Hansen, at the Teatro Variedades and at the Armenonville. She wore a mane and dressed like a gaucho or a tough guy. She appeared with Florencio Parravicini in 1905 and 1906 in short plays written by Ángel Villoldo. Those were sassy plays, lewd for that time, but that gathered large audiences fond of the genre. La Nación newspaper on December 5, 1901 announced that at the Teatro Comedia a charitable performance would be held, on which the female dancer Pepita Avellaneda would play “Las boleras” and the waltz “Santiago”. In El País paper on June 17, 1902 there was another announcement: «Tonight at the Teatro Rivadavia “Marina” and also “El guitarrico” will appear and the dancer Pepita Avellaneda will perform the streamer dance». (Lamas and Binda, “El tango en la sociedad porteña, 1880-1920, page 278)

In no piece of data collected by Hugo Lamas is mentioned that she had entirely sung a song or that she had been introduced as singer. It is also curious that the people in charge of the recording companies did not mention her like they did in the cases of actresses such as Lola Membrives, Manolita Poli or the unknown Paquita Shell, among others. Then, she cannot be regarded as a female tango singer but yes as a dancer and, in any case, as comedian for what she had done alongside Florencio Parraviccini.

But we still have no answer for the question that is heading this chronicle. But, finally, Lamas —based on his research plus the backing of his recordings— succeeded in deciphering the mystery: the woman at issue —that recorded tangos on the wax of the primitive cylinders— was Andrée Vivianne. Quite a legend!

For the first time her name appears in the La Nación newspaper, on October 27, 1903. In it her appearance for a month at the Teatro Casino was announced. Only the following year, another journal mentions her (El País nº 1742, 10/15/1904). It is a review about her appearance on the stage of the Teatro Royal: «Mme. Andreé Viviane, the beautiful Franco-Argentine female singer has been appearing for some days delighting the music-hall audiences in a number entrusted to her intelligent and gracious interpretation... A young artist, with a beautiful voice that, without disregarding her abundant repertoire of French songs, performs with an exquisite taste and feeling the music of our pampas”. That same year and in 1905 we know she was in our city because another announcement was published. It was concerned to the recordings made for the Zonófono label. In 1907 or 1908 she increased her short discography by recording Argentine folk songs and tangos for Odeon.

As this material is part of the Héctor Lucci’s collection we have been able to listen to it and verified that she owned a beautiful operatic soprano voice with good intonation which was customary at that time. Even though her phrasing is porteño, in her pronunciation a French touch is heard when she says the “r’s”.

The spelling of her first and last name is variable. At El Pabellón de las Rosas she made her debut on February 16, 1909 as: «Andhré Viviane, famous female criolla singer».

Later, Lamas says: «We found her track for the last time many years later in the La Nación newpaper of December 4, 1920: “... the play Juan Moreira was staged in which several criollo numbers were performed by the singer Miss Vivián, the payador Ignacio Corsini and the female folk singers Carmen Moreno and Ernestina Romero».

Her true origin is unknown and either if her name was true or a sobriquet. Neither photographs were found nor her date of birth or death were known. She may have been either Argentine or French. Since then information about her has not been found. Only her voice is left for us on cylinders and discs.

Below, there is a listing of the material recorded by Andrée Vivianne in the Héctor Lucci’s collection. The only data is what appears on the record labels.

Two-minute-long cylinders between 1904 and 1908, Phrinis label: nº 11.104, “El Porteñito”. Possibly, the first recording by Vivianne, year 1904/5; nº 11.108, “En la pampa”, estilo; nº 11.155, “Amores de un gaucho”.

25-cm discs, Zonófono label, year 1905: nº 13.706, “Mi guitarra”, estilo.

27-cm discs, Odeon label, nº: 41.579 “Después de tanto penar”, 41.580 “La tapera”, 41.581 “Mi guitarra” (three minutes and a half long), 41.583 “Rubia risueña”, 41.584 “Adiós para siempre”, 41.675 “Estilo pericón”, 41.679 “Acuérdate de mí” (song, year 1909), 41.680 “El pampeano”, 41.682 “Pampa Argentina”, 41.683 “Como te quiero”, 41.791 “Mi conquistador”; without numbers: “Las golondrinas”, “El arroyito [b]” (milonga), “Justicia criolla”, “El Porteñito”, in the latter recording it is mentioned the year 1909, the matrix 320 and that she is accompanied by orchestra. We regard it as a new rendition of the tango because we have already said that Lucci owns the same number on cylinder.

A peculiar thing is that Villoldo wrote for her a female version of the lyrics, which begins as follows:

Soy hija de Buenos Aires
por apodo la criollita
la moza más compadrita
que en este suelo pisó
cuando un tango en la vigüela
rasguea algún compañero
no hay nadie en el barrio entero
que baile mejor que yo.