There are simply no words or thoughts that can express the loss all Latinos, but particularly Mexican Americans, have experienced with the tragic and untimely death of one of Latin music’s larger than life icons, Jenni Rivera. If Selena’s death was a national event, well, Jenni’s has to be that to the tenth power. Not to take any merit away from the brilliant slain Tejano singer, but Jenni, in her own right, has had a longer and most prolific and polarizing musical career.
December 9th, 2012 will be forever remembered as the day that Regional Mexican music lost perhaps its most important contemporary leading lading. Born in Long Beach, California in 1969, Jenni Rivera launched her musical career very modestly in 1995 behind the shadows of her older brother, the charismatic and media-hogging Lupillo Rivera. But as the years went by, the roles reversed and Jenni took front and center stage in the family dynasty as not only the leading new female voice of Banda music, a genre dominated by Stetson hat, and boot-wearing macho Mexican cowboys, but also as a very savvy and astute business entrepreneur and media personality. She came on to the scene strong and with the collective rage of a hurt lioness reflected in thousands of Latina fans who found in Jenni a sense of consolation, strength and motivation from past failed romances and sour relationships.
Not that female empowerment had not been done before in Latin music, Lupita D’Alessio and Dulce had done it many years before and Paquita La Del Barrio had been at it for some time as well, but never had a young Mexican American taken that role in the U.S., and this is why Jenni carved her own territory and her own kingdom in the genre. But aside from her music, Jenni was kind and loving to her fans, she always said she was one of them, and she proved it with actions to the legions of adoring fans: young women, older women, girls, men, and the GLBT community, who she embraced as her own without ever pandering or claiming to be a self-proclaimed gay icon, like others had done in the general market.
I first met Jenni when I worked at Univision Records, as head of publicity for the recording label. She had been in the Fonovisa Records side of the house working with my counterpart Mariluz Gonzalez. I always envied the talent Mariluz got to work with, because she had all the iconic Regional Mexican acts, household names in Latin music such as Marco Antonio Solis, Los Tigres del Norte, Los Temerarios and of course Ms. Jenni Rivera. But to my surprise, in my last year at the label, Jenni switched over to Univision Records and I had the immense pleasure of working with her for a year on the launch of her first album with the label. I never befriended artists, because that was not my job. But Jenni had a way of just clicking with people and immediately opened her arms and her heart to me as we prepared to launch not only her album but the first promotional single. I remember taking her to a gay night club for the album release party, because at the label there was no money for these types of activities, so I leveraged my relationships with promoters around town, and took her to a local West Hollywood club to launch her new album. I thought she would have declined or thought I was crazy, but the minute I told her where we were going, she was just happy to get to be near her fans in a close and intimate setting.
I also had the great pleasure of organizing and putting together a special with Charitin for Escandalo TV, a special on the Rivera dynasty, which aired for an entire week on the Telefutura Network back in that same year (circa 2004). It was at this point that I realized how tight-knit and how close this family truly was. That they were organically and truthfully one for all and all for one! I saw the family in their natural element and in their turf. They were genuinely loving with one another and from that occasion I realized what a strong bond the Riveras really had.
I can’t say Jenni and I were close friends, because I knew my role in her career, but years after I left the label, I would run into her at various functions and events, and even was invited to her house in Chino Hills to celebrate her birthday with her family, and she would always greet me with a warm friendly smile, a hug and a kiss and made me feel special, like I had mattered in her career at one point, and that, I shall never forget.
Her voice, her style, her persona will live on forever and one more time, Latinos all over the world will mourn the passing of another idol that was their pride and joy, a new legend, a new icon relegated to the Pantheon of great Mexican American heroes. A collective sense of anger, disbelief and sadness will forever permeate in the lives of her fans and those who were fortunate to be a part of her life. Descansa en paz Gran Señora!