Rocio Durcal

'Queen of the Ranchera'

María de los Angeles de las Heras Ortiz (Rocío Dúrcal), singer and actress: born Madrid 4 October 1944; married 1970 Antonio Morales (one son, two daughters); died Madrid 25 March 2006.

Rocío Dúrcal chose her stage name by pointing blindfold to a map of Andalusia, became a teenage screen star and enjoyed lasting fame in Spain and Latin America as a singer of Mexican rancheras. One of a handful of Spanish child prodigies of the 1960s, when a nascent pop culture strove to lift spirits during the Franco years, Dúrcal proved more durable than most.

Born María de los Angeles in Madrid, the eldest of a family of six, she was educated in a convent school and entered radio talent competitions from the age of 11. These contests were enormously popular, not least for their promise of extra income for hard-pressed families.

The child put herself forward as a flamenco singer, and, in the opening stages of one contest, the impresario Luis Sanz spotted her and signed her up for his film company Epoca. Before the finals she was starring in Canción de juventud ("Song of Youth") of 1961, a comedy of boys and girls in adjacent schools. It became the hit of the season. A year later she starred in Rocío de la Mancha and in 1972 the more serious Marianela.

With an appealing spontaneity and sweetness, Dúrcal made some 15 films that showed off her talent for singing and dancing. Her picture appeared in fan magazines alongside Silvie Vartan and Natalie Wood. She made a couple of distinguished theatre appearances, one with the director Alfredo Marsillach. In her last film, an erotic lesbian tale of 1977 entitled Me siento estraña ("I Feel Strange"), she appeared on screen naked in a heap of white balloons.

In 1970 she married the musician Antonio Morales, of the popular Sixties band Los Brincos, who gradually abandoned his career to act as his wife's manager. From 1978, Dúrcal concentrated on singing and was admired for her rich voice and her range of song, from flamenco to ballads, rock and roll, paso dobles, rancheras, tangos and Latin pop.

She visited Mexico for the first time aged 17, and returned frequently for successful tours. She discovered her voice was suited to the Mexican ranchera. She formed a strong professional bond with the Mexican composer Juan Gabriel. Together they produced 10 hugely successful albums on which she sang rancheras accompanied by a mariachi band. She was hailed in Mexico as the "Queen of the Ranchera".

Dúrcal later said she was never ambitious to be a star. "I wanted to be an aviator, or a hairdresser," she confessed.

Elizabeth Nash

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