Obituary: Jenni Rivera / Soulful singing star in Mexico, U.S.

July 2, 1969 - Dec. 9, 2012

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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 one of the biggest stars of the genre known as grupero.

Her life was cut short at its peak 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 U.S.-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 had 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.

Ms. 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 tell them to keep moving forward.

Ms. 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 news 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.

"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."

Hours later, shortly after 3 a.m., Ms. Rivera is believed to have boarded a Learjet 25, which took off under clear skies. The jet headed south, toward Toluca, west of Mexico City. Ms. Rivera had been scheduled to tape "La Voz."

Ten minutes and 62 miles into the flight, air traffic controllers lost contact with its pilots, according to Mexican authorities. The jet crashed outside Iturbide, a remote city that straddles one of the few roads bisecting Mexico's Sierra de Arteaga national park.

Wreckage was scattered across several football fields' worth of terrain. An investigation was under way.

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending investigators to Mexico to assist with the investigation, the American agency said.

Ms. 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, Calif., 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 Ms. 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, Ms. 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 renowned 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. Ms. 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."

obituaries

Los Angeles Times contributed.


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