Violeta Parra

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Violeta Parra
Violeta Parra in the 1960s
Background information
Birth name Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval
Born (1917-10-04)4 October 1917
San Carlos, Chile
Origin San Carlos, Chile
Died 5 February 1967(1967-02-05) (aged 49)
Santiago, Chile
Genres Folk, Singer-songwriter, Andean music, Latin music, Chilean music, Experimental music, Nueva canción
Occupations Singer-songwriter, Plastic arts
Instruments Vocals, Guitar, Charango, Cuatro, Percussion
Years active 1939–†1967
Labels EMI-Odeon
Warner Music
(all posthumous)
Associated acts Víctor Jara, Quilapayún,
Inti-Illimani, Patricio Manns, Illapu, Ángel Parra, Isabel Parra, Roberto Parra, Sergio Ortega, Margot Loyola, Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Soledad Bravo, Daniel Viglietti, Mercedes Sosa, Joan Baez, Holly Near, Elis Regina, Dean Reed, Silvio Rodríguez
Website Official Website

Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval (4 October 1917 – 5 February 1967) was a Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist. She set the basis for "Chilean' New Song", the Nueva canción chilena, a renewal and a reinvention of Chilean folk music which would extend its sphere of influence outside Chile. In 2011 Andrés Wood directed a biopic about her, titled Violeta Went to Heaven.


Parra was born in San Carlos, Ñuble Province, a small town in southern Chile on 4 October 1917. She was involved in the progressive movement and the Communist Party of Chile. She revived the Peña (now known as La Peña de Los Parra), a community center for the arts and for political activism. Some have stated she established the first 'peña', but as said by the RAE, places such as these had been called that since 1936.

Violeta Parra was a member of the prolific Parra family. Among her brothers were the notable modern poet, better known as the "anti-poet", Nicanor Parra and fellow folklorist Roberto Parra. Her son, Ángel Parra, and her daughter, Isabel Parra, are also important figures in the development of the Nueva Canción Chilena. Their children have also mostly maintained the family's artistic traditions.

In 1967 Violeta Parra committed suicide[1] by a gunshot to her head.[2] She had previously been romantically involved with Swiss flautist Gilbert Favre.

Gracias A La Vida[edit]

Her most renowned song, Gracias a la Vida (Thanks to Life), was popularized throughout Latin America by Mercedes Sosa, in Brazil by Elis Regina and later in the US by Joan Baez. It remains one of the most covered Latin American songs in history. Other notable covers of this tragic, but widely beloved, folk anthem include the Italian guitar-vocal solo of Adriana Mezzadri and La Oreja de Van Gogh at the 2005 Viña del Mar International Song Festival.[3]

It has been treated by classically trained musicians such as in the fully orchestrated rendition by conservatory-trained Alberto Cortez.[4]

The song has been re-recorded by several Latin artists and Canadian Michael Bublé to gather funds for the Chilean people affected by the earthquake in Chile, February 2010.[5]

It opens with a very common shift between A minor and E major chords, then it goes to G7-C/C7 before returning to the Am/E motif.[6]

"Gracias a la vida" was written and recorded following Parra's separation with her long-time partner and shortly before she took her own life. Parra's lyricism is ambiguous; at face value, Parra's lyricism may be read as a romantic celebration of life and individual experience, however the circumstances surrounding the song suggest that Parra also intended the song as a sort of suicide note, thanking life for all it has given her. It may even be read as ironic, pointing out that a life full of good health, opportunity and worldly experience may not offer any consolation to grief and the contradictory nature of the human condition.

The song opens with a simple strumming at a leisurely tempo and exploits the poetic beauty of the Spanish language with consummate skill.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
Me dio dos luceros que cuando los abro
Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco
Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado
Y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo

Translated into English the lyrical sentiment and ambiguity is best conveyed by personifying life;

Thanks to life, which has given me so much
It gave me two bright stars that when I open them,
I perfectly distinguish the black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop
And within the multitudes the man I love

And the closing refrain "Gracias a la vida",

Thank you life
Thank you life
Thank you life

Another highly regarded original, "Volver a los Diecisiete" ("Being Seventeen Again") similarly celebrates the themes of youthful life, in tragic contrast to her biography. Unlike much popular music, it moves through minor key progression creating an introspective if not melancholy mood and thus has lent itself to classical treatment [7] as well as popular music. Despite its originality, Parra's music was deeply rooted in folk song traditions, as is the case with Nueva Canción in general.[7]


Studio albums[edit]

  • Chants et danses du chili. Vol. 1 (1956)
  • Chants et danses du chili. Vol. 2 (1956)
  • Violeta Parra, Canto y guitarra. El Folklore de Chile, Vol. I (1956)
  • Violeta Parra, acompañada de guitarra. El Folklore de Chile, Vol. II (1958)
  • La cueca presentada por Violeta Parra: El Folklore de Chile, Vol. III. (1958)
  • La tonada presentada por Violeta Parra: El Folklore de Chile, Vol. IV. (1958)
  • Toda Violeta Parra: El Folklore de Chile, Vol. VIII (1960)
  • Violeta Parra, guitare et chant: Chants et danses du Chili. (1963)
  • Recordandeo a Chile (Una Chilena en París). (1965)
  • Carpa de la Reina (1966)
  • Las últimas composiciones de Violeta Parra (1967)

Posthumous discography[edit]

  • Violeta Parra y sus canciones reencontradas en París (1971)
  • Canciones de Violeta Parra (1971)
  • Le Chili de Violeta Parra (1974)
  • Un río de sangre (1975)
  • Presente / Ausente (1975)
  • Décimas (1976)
  • Chants & rythmes du Chili (1991)
  • El hombre con su razón (1992)
  • Décimas y Centésimas (1993)
  • El folklore y la pasión (1994)
  • Haciendo Historia: La jardinera y su canto (1997)
  • Violeta Parra: Antología (1998)
  • Canciones reencontradas en París (1999)
  • Composiciones para guitarra (1999)
  • Violeta Parra - En Ginebra, En Vivo, 1965 (1999)
  • Violeta Parra: Cantos Campesinos (1999)

Further reading[edit]

  • Moreno, Albrecht: "Violeta Parra and 'La Nueva Canción Chilena." Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 5 (1986): 108—26.
  • Alcalde, Alfonso: Toda Violeta Parra (biography plus anthology of songs and poems) Ediciones de la Flor. Buenos Aires 1974


  1. ^ Mena, Rosario. "Eduardo Parra: My Sister Violetta Parra". Retrieved September 6, 2012. 
  2. ^ Discogs
  3. ^ "La Oreja de Van Gogh - La playa & Gracias a la vida". YouTube. 2006-07-17. Retrieved 2012-03-05. 
  4. ^ "Alberto Cortéz". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-03-05. 
  5. ^ "Gracias a la vida". Voces unidas por Chile. 2010-12-31. Retrieved 2012-03-05. 
  6. ^ "Joan Baez - Gracias A La Vida Lyrics". Retrieved 2012-03-05. 
  7. ^ a b "Violeta Parra – Volver A Los 17 – Video, Musik hören & Statistiken bei". Retrieved 2012-03-05. 

External links[edit]