Hear What’s Likely the Only Known Recording of Frida Kahlo’s Voice (1954)

Per­haps no artist in mod­ern his­to­ry, save Andy Warhol, has been so well doc­u­ment­ed, and self-doc­u­ment­ed, as Fri­da Kahlo, or has used doc­u­men­tary meth­ods, sur­re­al­ist and oth­er­wise, to so unflinch­ing­ly con­front ideas about dis­abil­i­ty, gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, nation­al iden­ti­ty, and rela­tion­ships. These qual­i­ties make her the per­fect celebri­ty artist for our times, but unlike the aver­age 21st cen­tu­ry star mak­ing art out of self-pre­sen­ta­tion, Kahlo’s voice has nev­er been heard, though she lived in a time almost as sat­u­rat­ed with mass media—of the radio, TV, and film variety—as our own.

That is, per­haps, until now, with the unearthing of what the Nation­al Sound Library of Mex­i­co believes to be a record­ing of her voice, “tak­en from a pilot episode of 1955 radio show El Bachiller [“The Bach­e­lor”],” writes Steph Har­mon at The Guardian. The show “aired after her death in 1954,” like­ly the fol­low­ing year. Though the pro­gram does not intro­duce her by name, the pre­sen­ter does refer to her as recent­ly deceased, and she does read an essay about her hus­band Diego Rivera, which hap­pens to be writ­ten by Fri­da Kahlo. The case seems fair­ly con­clu­sive.

Pre­vi­ous­ly the lit­tle evi­dence of what she sound­ed like came from writ­ten descrip­tions, such as French pho­tog­ra­ph­er Gisèle Freund’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of her voice as “melo­di­ous and warm.” Hear for your­self what is very like­ly the record­ed voice of Fri­da Kahlo in the audio above. In her typ­i­cal­ly florid yet unspar­ing style she paints a ver­bal por­trait of Rivera full of unflat­ter­ing phys­i­cal detail and lay­ers of emo­tion and admi­ra­tion. In one Eng­lish trans­la­tion, she calls him “a huge, immense child, with a friend­ly face and a sad gaze.

River­a’s “high, dark, extreme­ly intel­li­gent and big eyes rarely hold still. They almost pop out of their sock­ets because of their swollen and pro­tu­ber­ant eyelids—like a toad’s.” His huge eyes seem “built espe­cial­ly for a painter of spaces and crowds.” The Mex­i­can mural­ist, she says is like “an inscrutable mon­ster.” These are the words of a writer, we must remem­ber, who was pas­sion­ate­ly in love with her sub­ject, but who did not pre­tend to ignore his phys­i­cal odd­i­ties. As she had prac­ticed lov­ing her­self, she loved and admired Rivera because of his unique appear­ance, not in spite of it.

Researchers are mak­ing con­tin­u­ing efforts to ver­i­fy that the voice on the recod­ing is Kahlo and search­ing through about 1,300 oth­er episodes of the show, record­ed for Tele­visa Radio, to find out if there are any more record­ings of her. Giv­en Frida’s flam­boy­ant per­sona and minor art star­dom in her life­time, it’s hard to imag­ine we won’t hear more of her, if this is in fact her, as oth­er archives reveal their secrets.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Fri­da Kahlo’s Pas­sion­ate Love Let­ters to Diego Rivera

Dis­cov­er Fri­da Kahlo’s Wild­ly-Illus­trat­ed Diary: It Chron­i­cled the Last 10 Years of Her Life, and Then Got Locked Away for Decades

A Brief Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Life and Work of Fri­da Kahlo

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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