Jenni Rivera, Mexican American singer and reality television star, dies at 43
By Emily Langer,
Jenni Rivera, a daughter of Mexican immigrants who became one of the most successful Latina singers on both sides of the border with her soulful, straight-talking ballads of hard-living, hard-partying and female empowerment, died Dec. 9 in a plane crash in Northern Mexico. She was 43.
The small jet carrying Ms. Rivera and six other passengers crashed about 3:30 a.m. in the mountainous terrain outside Monterrey, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. There were no survivors.
Ms. Rivera was en route from a concert in Monterrey to the city of Toluca, where she was scheduled to appear as a judge on “La Voz” (the Mexican version of the TV vocal competition “The Voice”). Authorities have not determined what caused the crash.
Ms. Rivera straddled many worlds in her path-breaking career, which included sales of more than 15 million records, three nominations for the Latin Grammy Awards and her growing fame on Spanish and English television.
She grew up in Long Beach, Calif., where her father, Pedro Rivera, was a patriarch of banda, a traditional genre of Mexican music heavy on horns and polka-like rhythms.
For generations, banda was dominated by men. Ms. Rivera broke into the industry in the mid-1990s with hits such as “Las Malandrinas,” an anthem for party girls. She became a conspicuous feminine presence on stage with her rhinestones and leather bustiers.
A mother of five, she developed a repertoire that spoke to the women who made up the core of her fan base. Another of her most popular numbers was “Las Mismas Costumbres,” or “Familiar Habits.”
“It is a very important song to me because not only do I sing it, but I have lived it,” she told the Houston Chronicle. “The song is about a woman who gave herself to a man and helped him and did everything for him. But she ended up separating from him, then divorcing him and then having to fight for support. This song is close to my heart and my life.”
Other titles included “No Vas a Jugar,” often translated as “Don’t Even Think About Playing Me,” and “Ni Tu Esposa, Ni Tu Amante, Ni Tu Amiga,” translated as “Not Your Wife, Not Your Lover, Not Even Your Friend.”
As she modernized the bounds of traditional Mexican music, Ms. Rivera styled herself as the quintessential modern celebrity. Her performances sometimes lasted up to five hours. At times they had an escapist vibe. In one recent performance, the Los Angeles Times re ported, she drank from a tequila bottle and belted out “I Will Survive,” a song long associated with Gloria Gaynor.
In recent years, Ms. Rivera was the executive producer of three reality television programs on Telemundo’s mun2 television network. They included “Jenni Rivera Presents: Chiquis & Raq-C” (featuring her daughter), “I Love Jenni” (in which she struggles to balance her career while raising children) and “Chiquis ‘n Control” (also featuring her daughter).
When Ms. Rivera died, she was reported to be developing an English-language sitcom with ABC about a strong, single Latina mother. It was a sign of her ever-growing audience.
Ms. Rivera’s popularity stemmed in part from her story of resilience. “I am a survivor,” she once told the Dallas Morning News, “a successful survivor.”
Ms. Rivera was born July 2, 1969, in Long Beach. She said that, as a child, she would rise as early as 5 a.m. to help her father set up his cassette stand at the flea market where he first became a figure in the local music scene.
He later founded an influential record label that promoted the traditional Mexican genres Ms. Rivera would dominate years later. Her brothers, most prominently the singer Lupillo Rivera, also worked in the music industry.
Ms. Rivera gave birth to her first child as a sophomore in high school. She married the baby’s father, Trinidad Marin, and had two more children with him before divorcing. In 2007, Marin was sentenced to 31 years to life in prison for molesting his daughter and sister-in-law more than a decade earlier.
Ms. Rivera said that her husband physically abused her and that he opposed her desire to go to college. She nonetheless received a business degree from Long Beach State University, according to the Dallas Morning News.
She sustained herself and her children with the help of welfare, lived in a garage and worked as a real estate agent before launching her music career.
Her debut album was “La Chacalosa” (1995), or “Jackal Woman.” The title song was a narcocorrido — a song about drug trafficking, not based on her autobiography, she noted — from the perspective of the smuggler’s daughter.
“It’s like honoring the bad guys, which is not the best thing to sing about, but it’s a reality for a lot of people out there that live this way,” she told the Daily News of Los Angeles. “So why not sing about it and make a lot of money while you’re at it?”
Her subsequent albums included “Mi Vida Loca” (2007), “La Gran Senora” (2009) and “Joyas Prestadas” (2011).
Ms. Rivera, who maintained an estate in Encino, Calif., aspired to and had very nearly achieved a sort of all-encompassing celebrity.
Besides her singing career, her business ventures included Divina Realty, Divina Cosmetics, Jenni Rivera Fragrance and Jenni Jeans. She also started the Jenni Rivera Love Foundation to support single mothers and victims of domestic violence and spoke out on behalf of immigrants’ rights.
Her second marriage, to Juan Lopez, ended in divorce. She was recently separated from her third husband, former major league pitcher Esteban Loaiza.
According to news accounts, survivors include her parents, Pedro and Rosa Rivera; five children; four brothers; a sister; and two grandchildren.
“I can’t focus on the negative,” she said in Spanish hours before her death in what would be her last news conference, the Los Angeles Times reported. “Because that will defeat you. That will destroy you. . . . The number of times I have fallen down is the number of times I have gotten up.”