OBITUARIES: Lola Flores

Phil Sweeney
Friday 09 June 1995 00:02
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The departure of Lola Flores, the singer, actress and entertainer, was as full of colour and spirit as her life. Draped in a white silk mantilla belonging to her fellow star Carmen Sevilla, lips as red as the carnations heaped in thousands, she was lowered into the grey granite family grave amid shouts of "Lola! Ole, Gitana!", while an anonymous voice sang a verse from one of her most famous songs, ''La Zarzamora''. Hundreds of thousands of mourners, from the Mayors of Madrid and Jerez, the bullfighter Jose Ortega Cano and the film director Pedro Almodovar, down to street vendors and gypsies, either attended the funeral or queued outside the Cultural Centre in Madrid, where she lay in state for 24 hours.

Although only part gypsy herself, Flores identified strongly with gypsy culture, married a gypsy and often played gypsy girls in her Mexican, Spanish and American films in the Fifties and Sixties. Her dark aquiline features reflected the alleged Egyptian ancestry of the race, too, which was why the Mexican Bolero writer Agustin Lara first dubbed her ''La Faraona'' (the Pharaoh), a sobriquet which was universally adopted.

Lola Flores was one of the most famous of the folcloricas, stars who exalted a romanticised version of Andalusian culture into a symbol of Spain as a whole. The admiration of things Andalusian, started during the republic by intellectuals like Lorca and de Falla, reached its apogee under Franco, and this, plus a strong intrinsic element of kitsch, made Flores's art unfashionable in the Seventies and Eighties. (Although the return swing of the pendulum has begun, as shown by the presence of Almodovar at her funeral and others from the new arts establishment.)

In spite of her naive nationalism - ''Lola of Spain'' was the media nickname that most delighted her - and her cordial relations with Franco, Flores was far too much of a free spirit to pay obeisance to any government and had always retained the respect of young musicians.

Flores was born in 1923 in Jerez de la Frontera. Her mother was a dressmaker and her father ran a bar, in which Lola soon became a precocious and determined teenage entertainer singing bulerias and dancing. In pursuit of the daughter's career the family moved to Madrid, where Lola studied under the famous copla composer Quiroga and began to flourish in cafe concerts.

In 1941 an impresario paired her for the first time with the older flamenco showman Manolo Caracol, and this combination of fiery young dancer and mature singing star, which soon became a romantic as well as a professional involvement, led to huge hit shows such as La Zambra which toured the bullrings and concert halls of the nation for five years.

In 1951 Flores was contracted for six films by the producer Cesareo Gonzalez, who operated the Spanish equivalent of a Hollywood studio system, and whose leading ladies wore mink, travelled in white Mercedes and dominated the headlines of the popular press. During the ensuing two decades, she became hugely famous throughout South America, where she met, and frequently had affairs with eminent Latin musicians and artists. Among the testimonials in the Spanish press were many from Mexico, Argentina, Miami (where she celebrated her 50th anniversary in show business), and Cuba (the novelist Cabrera Infante recalling her remark on pre-revolutionary Havana that it was "just like Cadiz but with black men").

In 1957 Flores married the Barcelona guitarist Antonio Gonzalez "El Pescailla", who more or less invented the Catalan rumba pop style most recently made famous by the Gypsy Kings. They had three children, now all successful entertainers themselves.

Her later years were marred by battles with the tax authorities which resulted in heavy fines and one short suspended prison sentence; and with cancer, which she fought tenaciously for 25 years. She continued to work, and occupy the gossip columns, almost until the end. A friend remembers a night out in the bars and clubs of Madrid with Flores, her husband and some young "new flamenco" artists, finishing at 6am only last July, and Flores was rehearsing another new television special, and a part in the next Carlos Saura film, a month before she died.

Phil Sweeney

Dolores (''Lola'') Flores, singer, actress, entertainer: born Jerez de la Frontera, Spain 21 January 1923; married 1957 Antonio Gonzalez (one son, two daughters); died Madrid 16 May 1995.

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