Living to be 100 years-old is a great achievement for many; so much so for Argentine folk music composer and tango singer Nelly Omar, who became a centenarian while remaining one of the longest active popular music performers in Argentina and the world.
The Argentine folk and tango singer known as Nellly Omar (real name Nilda Elvira Vattuone) was born in 1911 in the small town of Guaminí, in the central region of the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her father, Marcos Vattuone, was a foreman at a cattle-ranching farm. He was also a “guitarrero” (guitar player - folk singer) and a tango enthusiast who organized musical presentations for aspiring and well-known Argentine and Uruguayan musicians. Carlos Gardel once came to town, and Vattuone organized the show and sold the tickets. Gardel’s performance was a success and young Nilda knew then that her initial intention to become an airplane pilot had to give way to her new intense desire to become a tango singer.
Nilda was only 12-years-old when her father died. Nilda, with her mother and 9 siblings, were left destitute. They moved to Buenos Aires where Nilda, age 12, started working at a textile factory. She also went to school where she learned singing, dancing and scenic arts.
Soon she was singing in school acts and neighbourhood theatres. At age 17, she auditioned at a radio station and
Argentine tango singer Nelly Omar, in 1953.
was hired to sing Argentine country ballads, milongas and tangos. At this time she adopted the stage name Nelly Omar. It wasn’t long before she was offered brief acting roles in movies. She performed in three films between 1940 and 1951, but she was probably a better singer than an actress, and that was the end of Nilda’s acting career.
In 1940, Nelly Omar got to know Eva Perón, the wife of the Argentine president, and the two women became good friends. Nelly did not like politics, but she became a loyal Peronist, a devoted follower of Perón and Evita. When a military coup deposed Perón in 1955, Nelly was blacklisted and for a while she found it very difficult to find singing engagements. In 1958 she left B. Aires and moved to Uruguay, and later on to Venezuela. Several years later she returned to Argentina to continue her singing career.
In 1996, she received the distinction of "Illustrious Citizen of Buenos Aires". She carried on with frequent public performances, many of which have taken place at the famous Luna Park Arena of Buenos Aires. In 2000, at age 89, Nelly performed at Le Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris and at age 96 (in 2007) she recorded her last album entitled “La Criolla”. On 11 November 2011, Nelly Omar celebrated her 100 birthday with a concert at the Luna Park where she sang 13 of her most celebrated recordings, including a wonderful performance of one of the tangos that made her famous: “Sur” (Spanish for “South”).
At this performance, wearing her emblematic, very Argentine, red and black poncho, the legendary artist delighted her fans, showing that at the time she reached her 100th birthday, she is still a pleasure to listen to, truly deserving of being considered a living treasure of Argentina, and one of the most beloved interpreters of the world famous Argentine musical genre.
Nelly Omar at her home in 2010.(Screengrab from Clarín.com).