Carlos Gardel was tango's first superstar and still one of its most enduring performers. Revered as an icon in Argentina ever since his tragic death in 1935, Gardel -- nicknamed "El Zorzal Criollo" ("The Creole Thrush") -- was the first singer to adopt the tango as a form of popular song. Previously, it had been entirely instrumental dance music, looked down upon by the cultural elite for its common origins and earthy sensuality. Gardel didn't change those qualities, but his advocacy certainly popularized the genre beyond all expectations. Thanks to extensive touring and a budding movie career, Gardel was able to become a star throughout Latin America and Western Europe; in fact, tango's international acceptance legitimized it in the eyes of Argentine skeptics. Blessed with an expressive, sobbing baritone, Gardel's flair for mournful heartbreak ballads helped establish an important part of tango's emotional language. Moreover, his charismatic personal style -- sharp clothes, urbane refinement, and a zest for the finer things in life -- made him a folk hero to countless fans with origins as humble as his own. His meteoric rise symbolically paralleled tango's path to legitimacy and international fame; in Gardel the common folk of Buenos Aires saw themselves and their culture validated on a massive scale. The plane crash that claimed his life at the height of his fame set off shock waves across the Spanish-speaking world, and even today, he is treated with near-religious reverence in Argentina; fans often say that he sings better every day. Gardel rivals Astor Piazzolla as the most important single figure in tango history; if Piazzolla was roughly tango's equivalent of Duke Ellington, then Gardel was certainly its Frank Sinatra -- a towering giant of a vocalist, macho yet sensitive, with an unequaled affinity for the popular song of his homeland.