When Dominicans began recording bachata in 1962, one of the most popular singers of guitar-based boleros was the Puerto Rican, Blanca Iris Villafane. Villafane sang, as did her male contemporaries, and as bachateros would later, about the betrayals and disappointments of life in the world of the bar and barrio. Melida Rodriguez, the first woman to record bachata, followed in Villafane’s footsteps, and her songs describe with profound sympathy the experiences of a woman in this rough and tumble world. Melida Rodriguez was among the very first bachateros, and her songs were accompanied by the same musicians as many of her male contemporaries, pioneers like Jose Manuel Calderon and Fabio Sanabia. She wrote her own songs, and her signature work, “La sufrida”, is beyond doubt the best known bachata sung purely from a woman’s point of view. In it she declares her determination to be bad, that is, unfaithful, because while she has been faithful no one has been faithful to her. The chorus, “Yo soy mala, y seguire siendo mala”, is an exhilarating statement of feminine freedom in the context of a society which at the time held conservative views regarding sexuality.
Rodriguez spent only a short time actively recording, during which she produced twenty or thirty songs—all of them boleros, some recorded in the classic bachata format of two guitars, maracas, bass and bongo, and others that incorporated saxophone, trumpet or timbales. About two thirds of her work is made up of her own compositions; the others are classic boleros of desprecio, scorn for a love that went wrong. Her own songs include much of the sentiment of desprecio; but they also express an attitude of empowerment unusual for a woman in the Dominican Republic in 1960s.
Rodriguez continued performing from time to time, but did not go on recording after 1966 or 67. She moved from the capital to San Pedro de Macoris, which contributed to her gradual disappearance from the public eye, until her death of a heart attack in 1975, the same year that Aridia Ventura, her clear successor as the female voice of bachata, first began to record.