Jenni Rivera, soulful, troubled star

Last updated 11:18 11/12/2012
Jenni Rivera
REUTERS
SOULFUL AND TROUBLED: Singer Jenni Rivera.

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Jenni Rivera launched her career hawking cassette recordings of her songs at flea markets, but a powerful voice, soulful singing style and frank discussion of personal troubles powered her to the heights of a male-dominated industry, transforming her into the one of the biggest stars of the genre known as grupero.

Her life was cut short at its peak on Sunday by an airplane crash in northern Mexico that also killed six friends and co-workers.

The 43-year-old mother of five and grandmother of two became a symbol of resilience for millions of fans on both sides of the US-Mexican border. Her fame grew as she branched out into acting, appearing in independent film, reality TV and the televised singing competition La Voz Mexico.

She had recently filed for divorce from her third husband, was once detained at a Mexico City airport with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, and publicly apologized after her brother assaulted a drunken fan who verbally attacked her in 2011.

"I am the same as the public, as my fans," she told The Associated Press in an interview last March.

Rivera sold more than 15 million copies of her 12 major-label albums and won a string of Latin music awards. Her shows filled both the Staples Center in Los Angeles and Mexico's National Auditorium, a feat few male singers in her industry achieved.

Many of her songs dealt with themes of dignity in the face of heartbreak, and her shows were known for their festive atmosphere and her intimate interactions with her fans. She would fill song requests from fans who had suffered heartbreak and setbacks, and would often pull women and girls onto stage to personally tell them to keep moving forward.

Rivera's plane was taking her and aides to the central Mexican city of Toluca after a Saturday night concert before thousands in the northern city of Monterrey. After the concert she gave a press conference during which she spoke of her emotional state following her recent move to divorce former Major League Baseball pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who played for teams including the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Rivera announced in October that she was divorcing Loaiza after two years of marriage.

"I can't get caught up in the negative because that destroys you. Perhaps trying to move away from my problems and focus on the positive is the best I can do. I am a woman like any other and ugly things happen to me like any other woman," she said Saturday night. "The number of times I have fallen down is the number of times I have gotten up."

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Rivera's parents migrated from Mexico to California and founded the label that also propelled two of her five brothers, Lupillo and Juan Rivera, to careers as well-known singers of grupero music.

Born on July 2, 1969 in Westwood, California, Janney Dolores Rivera Savedra studied business administration and often said with pride that she started her singing career in flea markets in the Los Angeles area, selling cassette tapes to fans.

She formally debuted on the music scene in 1995 with the release of her album "Chacalosa".

That successful album was followed with two other independent albums, one a tribute to slain Mexican-American singer Selena that helped Rivera expand her following. By the end of the 90s, she won a major-label contract, and built a loyal following that knew her as the "Diva de la Banda."

At the end of the 1990s, Rivera was signed by Sony Music and released two more albums, If You Want to See Me Crying, and Queen of Queens.

In 2002, she received her first Latin Grammy nomination, for best album in the band music category.

Even more widespread success came when she joined Fonovisa and released her 2005 album titled Partier, Rebellious and Daring, which positioned her as one of the most renowed grupero singers and songwriters.

She was also nominated for Latin Grammys in 2008 and 2011.

She was also an actress, appearing in the indie film Filly Brown, which was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, as the incarcerated mother of character Filly Brown.

Her most recent album, Joyas Prestadas, or Borrowed Jewels, won widespread praise and awards and helped cement her status as one of the brightest stars of Mexican-American music.

She was also filming the third season of "I Love Jenni," which followed her as she interacted with her family and toured through Mexico and the United States. She also played a key role in the reality shows: Jenni Rivera Presents: Chiquis and Raq-C and her daughter's Chiquis 'n Control.

In 2009, she was detained at the Mexico City airport when she declared $20,000 in cash but was really carrying $52,167. She was taken into custody. She said it was an innocent mistake and authorities gave her the benefit of the doubt and released her.

In 2011, her brother Juan assaulted a drunken fan at a popular fair in Guanajuato. In the face of heavy criticism among her fans and on social networks, Rivera publicly apologized for the incident during a concert in Mexico City, telling her fans: "Thank you for accepting me as I am, with my virtues and defects."

LIST OF MUSIC STARS WHO HAVE DIED IN AIR CRASHES

With hectic tours to often remote places, the music world has been hit hard by air tragedies over the years. On Sunday (local time), Mexican singing star Jenni Rivera and six others were killed when their Learjet crashed in rugged territory following a concert in Monterrey, Mexico. Here are other notable musicians who lost their lives in air crashes:

- December 15, 1944: Glenn Miller, the trombonist and leader of a hugely popular dance band, was killed when his plane disappeared between England and Paris while Miller was entertaining troops.

- June 30, 1954: Gospel singers R.W. Blackwood and Bill Lyles died when the group's private plane crashed in Clanton, Ala.

- February 3, 1959: Rock stars Buddy Holly, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Ritchie Valens were killed when their chartered plane crashed near Mason City, Iowa, en route to a show.

- March 5, 1963: Country singer Patsy Cline, whose hits included "Crazy" and "She's Got You," and fellow singers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins died in a plane crash near Camden, Tenn.

- July 31, 1964: Jim Reeves, a country balladeer known for "Four Walls" and "Welcome to My World," was killed in the crash of a small plane in Nashville, Tenn.

- December 10, 1967: Soul singer Otis Redding died when his plane crashed into a lake near Madison, Wis.

- September 20, 1973: Singer Jim Croce, known for hits such as "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," was killed in a plane crash near Natchitoches, La.

- October 21, 1977: Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Stevie Gaines of the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd died in a plane crash in McComb, Miss.

- March 19, 1982: Randall "Randy" Rhoads, lead guitarist in rock star Ozzy Osbourne's band, along with two others, were killed when their Beechcraft Bonanza allegedly flew too low while "buzzing" a band van on tour in Leesburg, Fla.

- December 31, 1985: Rick Nelson, "Ozzie and Harriet" TV star turned rock `n' roller, died when his plane caught fire and crashed near DeKalb, Texas.

- March 21, 1987: Dean Paul Martin, former member of the 1960s band Dino, Desi and Billy and son of entertainer of Dean Martin, was killed with his co-pilot. The two, flying an F-4 phantom, were members of the California Air National Guard.

- August 27, 1990: Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan died when his helicopter crashed into a hill in East Troy, Wis., after departing from a concert.

- October 25, 1991: Bill Graham, who built an empire promoting concerts as rock `n' roll turned psychedelic in the 1960s with groups including Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Santana, was killed in a helicopter crash near Vallejo, Calif.

- October 12, 1997: John Denver, 1970s superstar with hits like "Take Me Home, Country Roads," died in the crash of his experimental plane off the California coast.

- August 25, 2001: Actress and R&B singer Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas along with eight others. The twin-engine Cessna went down shortly after takeoff.

- November 24, 2001: Melanie Thornton, half of the pop duo La Bouche, which had `1990s hits such as "Be My Lover" and "Sweet Dreams," died in an airline crash in Switzerland.

- February 12, 2009: Two members of jazz musician Chuck Mangione's band, Gerry Niewood and Coleman Mellett, were killed in a commuter plane crash outside Buffalo, NY, along with 48 others.

- AP

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