Jenni Rivera, the flamboyant, outspoken, big-voiced singer who was the top-selling regional Mexican female star of her generation, was confirmed dead after the small private plane in which she was traveling crashed in Mexico. Her relatives confirmed the news to Telemundo. Rivera was 43 years old.
Fully comfortable in English and Spanish, Rivera was at the height of her career and stood out not only as one of the very few Latin women consistently on the charts, but also as the only Latina singer poised to make major inroads in U.S. network television. That Rivera was able to do so coming not from a pop background -- like most crossovers have -- but singing traditional Mexican music, was a testament to her tremendous appeal as a performer and as a personality.
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A force to be reckoned within multiple media platforms, she had two albums -- "Joyas Prestadas: Pop" and "Joyas Prestadas: Banda" -- currently coexisting on Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart; her own reality show, "I Love Jenni," on bilingual cable network mun2; she had recently inked a deal to star in a comedy on ABC to be simply titled "Jenni"; she hosted a syndicated weekly radio program and had launched both clothing and cosmetics lines; she was a coach on "The Voice Mexico," and had had a role in her first feature film, "Philly Brown." Rivera also launched her own foundation to help victims of domestic abuse.
Signed to Fonovisa/UMLE, Rivera had sold 1.2 million albums in the U.S. alone, and placed eight albums on the top 10 of Billboard's Regional Mexican Albums chart, including four No.1s and seven Top 10s on Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart and one No. 1, as well as 10 singles on the Top 10 of the regional Mexican Airplay chart, including one No. 1.
More importantly perhaps, Rivera personified a bilingual, bicultural, empowered Latina and spoke directly to that audience every chance she got. "La J1, La Diva de la Banda (The Banda Diva), La Gran Señora (The Great Lady), singer/songwriter, mother, grandmother, businesswoman and producer," read her Twitter description, all roles Rivera was immensely proud of and touted with consistency.
Rivera spoke with sometimes startling bluntness about her life and her troubles-- including becoming pregnant at 15, marrying an abusive husband, and her most recent divorce -- and the more she spoke, the closer she seemed to get to a growing fan base; at the time of her death she had nearly 1.7 million followers on Twitter, a medium she was particularly fond of and used to communicate directly with fans.
"I have been through a lot, but I'm not a victim," Rivera told Billboard in a 2010 interview. "If I felt like a victim, I wouldn't be able to succeed and be where I'm at right now. I have a warrior spirit." Rivera was candid in assessing her appeal and her success, which she believed had to do with the honesty of her songs -- which often mirrored her own life -- and her very attitude and looks.
Her fans, she said, "want to see what I'm singing about. They want to know very important details in my life. They're into my stories, and they believe that what I'm singing sounds true to them. They know I'm just like them. They know I'm real. I'm not some untouchable artist. I'm just a woman that sings. And they like to see someone like them succeed and make it."
Recently signed to an agency deal by CAA and managed by Pete Salgado, Rivera was just beginning to realize the realm of possibilities available to her as an artist that could straddle different marketplaces.
"There are so many things that I can do that are offered to me now," she said during an interview at the Billboard Latin Music Conference last April. "I'm very happy for the success that I've had, but I guess I've worked so hard at it. I'm living my expectations."
"Jenni has always been a persevering artist and a businesswoman with clear goals," said Victor González, president of UMLE. "Once she understood her talent could generate unique success, she always had the vision to extend into other areas of entertainment and even into other industries. That capacity has differentiated her from many other artists."
Born and raised in Long Beach, Ca., Rivera was introduced to Mexican music by her father, Pedro Rivera, who owned and ran indie label Cintas Acuario. Rivera and her siblings, who include banda star Lupillo Rivera and singer Juan Rivera, grew up imbued in Mexican music, helping their father sell and promote his music in the surrounding areas.
"Mexican music runs through my veins," Rivera told Billboard in an interview this year. "I loved it. Growing up, my father didn't allow us to listen to English music at home. That's all I heard. I had no choice [...] We had our own music stands in the local swap meets. We sold cassette tapes at the time, and that's how we made a living. We stepped it up a bit when my father opened his own record store and eventually started his own record label."
Rivera would eventually venture into music as a career when she was a divorced mother of three. She initially recorded corridos and met strong resistance at radio -- at the time, women in regional Mexican music sang romantic music and rancheras -- and her brand of regional Mexican was initially shunned until local station KBUE finally gave her a shot. Signed to Sony -- then home to her successful brother Lupillo -- Rivera switched to Fonovisa in 1999, and gave them the album "Que Me Entierren con La Banda," which included the hit "Las Malandrinas." It was the beginning of her success.
"Malandrinas" means "bad girls," but not bad in a negative way," Rivera told Billboard last year. "I wrote it in homage to my female fans. The type of girls that go clubbing, drink tequila and stand up for themselves. The song blew up. People became interested. That's when Jenni Rivera the artist was actually born. What better way to attract attention than to females? I am a female. I know all about us. There are more females in the world than men. I always thought that was the market to go after. Those are the buyers and the people who understand me. That's why I continue to write songs like that."
Rivera would continue to evolve musically, recording her first ranchera album, "La Gran Señora," in 2009, and last year releasing dual pop and banda albums, a breakthrough that led her to win Artist of the Year and Female and Banda Album of the Year at Billboard's Mexican Music Awards in October.
She was also a woman of many firsts: The first female banda artist to sell out the Gibson Amphitheater (2006), the first Latin artist to sell out the Nokia Theatre (2009) and the first female regional Mexican artist to headline the Staples Center (2011).
More impressively, Rivera was the only female Latin recording artist in the market to host her own reality show and, most recently, to have signed a mainstream television deal. What could have happened with a Rivera-led sitcom will never be known, but surely it pointed to endless possibilities for artists who would come in her wake.
Rivera is survived by her five children, Jacky, Chiquis, Michael, Johnny Ángel and Jenicka, by her parents and by her siblings Pedro, Gustavo, Lupillo, Juan and Rosie.
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