Singer Mercedes Sosa’s memories and stories in San Miguel de Tucumán, in northern Argentina, her hometown
A voice echoed on the radio of the Sosa family in October 1950. “Isn’t this Marta?” asked the father of the 15-year-old girl, whom he named Haydeé Mercedes Sosa but was known at home as Marta – the name her mother wanted to give her. It was her. The previous week, the girl had entered a radio contest without telling anyone. She not only won, but was also invited to come back. Fearing her family’s reaction, she used the name Gladys Osorio. Marta for her family and Gladys for her debut, she later became Mercedes Sosa for the world and La Negra – because of her dark hair and eyes – for most of her fans.
The singer was born on July 9, 1935, the day Argentina’s independence is celebrated, in the city where it was declared (in 1816): San Miguel de Tucumán. “Our house was next to Parque 9 de Julio, and our mother used to take us there at night, so we wouldn’t smell the aroma of food coming from other houses. We would also pick some fruit there,” recall her siblings in the documentary Mercedes Sosa, La Voz de Latinoamérica. “The truth is that we were always hungry,” they say, in the movie produced by Mercedes’s son, Fabián Matus. The park is still open to the public. “What saved me in poverty was my love-filled home,” the singer used to say.
Already famous, whenever she would return to her hometown, Mercedes would have empanadas at El Alto de la Lechuza. “My mother used to sing there when she was young, and the place is still open, hosting performances by great musicians and offering traditional food,” says Fabián Matus, who runs the Fundación Mercedes Sosa. Another space that pays homage to her is the restaurant La Negra, Un Lugar en Tucumán. In addition to regional music and cuisine, it has international dishes.
El Alto de la Lechuza — Av. 24 de Septiembre, 1.199
La Negra, un Lugar en Tucumán — General Paz, 1.502
Even though she loved the energy of her hometown, Mercedes moved to Mendoza at a young age. Her first album, La Voz de la Zafra, was released in 1962, with folk songs, while the following two, Canciones con Fundamento (1965) and Yo No Canto por Cantar (1966), revealed her political engagement.
In 1979, Mercedes moved to Paris and then to Madrid. She only returned to Argentina in 1983. She didn’t perform in San Miguel de Tucumán for four years due to political issues. But she came back in grand style: with a performance in front of the Casa de Gobierno. How about walking there while listening to “Al Jardín de la República,” which praises the joy of Tucumán – a song that Mercedes loved to sing? Nearby is the Museo Folklórico Provincial, home to a hall dedicated to the singer.
Mercedes Sosa died in Buenos Aires on October 4, 2009 at the age of 74. Her ashes were spread from Cerro San Javier, some 18 miles [30 km] from San Miguel de Tucumán. “At the top is Plaza Mercedes Sosa. Further on, there’s a Christ statue with a beautiful view, and some 2 miles [4 km] away is the place where we scattered her ashes and put a stone with her name. She loved to go there. She said that she needed to go there to take in the energy of her hometown,” Fabián affirms. And her hometown is thankful to this day: “Thank you, Negra, for your fight and songs,” read one of the signs brought by admirers of her wonderful voice.
Casa de Gobierno — Av. 25 de Mayo, 90
Museo Folclórico Provincial — Av. 24 de Septiembre, 565