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This May Be the Only Known Recording of Frida Kahlo’s Voice

The sound of the speaker on recording, which was found earlier this year, has been described as ‘sweet, delicate, very feminine’

Frida Kahlo photographed with Diego Rivera and Malu Block. (Photo by Carl Van Vechten Collection/Getty Images)
smithsonian.com

A recently unearthed audio clip featured in the 1955 pilot episode of Mexican radio show “El Bachiller” could represent the only known example of Frida Kahlo’s voice, the National Sound Library of Mexico announced this week.

According to The New York Times’ Alex Marshall and Mark A. Walsh, the recording, which likely dates to 1953 or '54, introduces its speaker as a female painter “who no longer exists”—a point in favor of the Kahlo attribution, since the artist died on July 13, 1954, shortly before the program’s release.

In the 90-second clip, the unidentified speaker reads excerpts from a Kahlo essay titled “Portrait of Diego.” In the piece, published in 1949 as part of the catalogue for a retrospective centered on husband and fellow artist, Diego Rivera, Kahlo describes the Mexican muralist as a “gigantic, immense child, with a friendly face and a sad gaze.”

“His high, dark, extremely intelligent and big eyes rarely hold still. They almost come out of their sockets because of their swollen and protuberant eyelids—like a toad’s. They allow his gaze to take in a much wider visual field, as if they were built especially for a painter of large spaces and crowds,” the piece continues, per an Agence France-Presse translation quoted by the Guardian’s Steph Harmon.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Hilda Trujillo, director of the Frida Kahlo Museum, cautions that there is “still a long way to go” before the voice can be definitively identified as Kahlo’s. But Trujillo says she remains optimistic that the clip includes “enough elements to do a rigorous analysis” involving library officials, engineers, audio experts and still-living individuals who knew the great artist.

As Nicole Acevedo reports for NBC News, Guadalupe Rivera Marín, one of Rivera’s daughters from a previous marriage, says she recognizes the recording as Kahlo. But others, including Leon Trotsky’s grandson—the revolutionary and the artist had an explosive affair during the late 1930s—Esteban Volkov, remain unconvinced.

According to Sonia Corona of Spanish daily El País, several factors point toward the speaker’s identity as Kahlo: Experts note that the woman in question is not a professional radio announcer, as she pauses to take a breath multiple times and “tends to lisp,” and further explain that the clip was recorded with a portable device rather than in an official studio.

Previously, Kahlo’s voice has only been known through written accounts. French photographer Gisèle Freund, for example, once described the painter’s speech as “melodious and warm.” But a lack of concrete physical evidence certainly hasn’t deterred fans, library national director Pável Granados said during a press conference, adding that Kahlo’s voice is one of the “most requested and sought-after” among visitors.

Although the recording, found earlier this year by archivists tasked with digitizing a collection donated by Mexican broadcaster Álvaro Gálvez y Fuentes, is currently the only known clip of its kind, The New York Times’ Marshall and Walsh write that researchers are listening to more than 1,300 tapes from the “El Bachiller” archives in hopes of spotting another potential Kahlo soundbite.

Kahlo enthusiasts may be surprised to hear what her voice is believed to have sounded like: “There is a lot of idealism to who she was—how strong she was—and I think a lot of people thought she’d have a stronger, deeper voice,” Erika Servin, a Mexican artist and fine arts lecturer at England’s Newcastle University, tells the Times.

In actuality, “it’s … a really sweet, delicate, very feminine voice.”

Servin suggests the voice may have suited her well. “With her clothes and her image, she was intensely feminine, so her voice makes sense," she says. "It’s vital to have this full picture of her presence: this beautiful, delicate Frida Kahlo, but strong politically and in her art.”

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