When Pepe Aguilar was 3 years old, his parents -- singer/actor Antonio Aguilar, considered one of the world's great ranchera voices, and screen siren Flor Silvestre -- handed him a microphone onstage at New York's Madison Square Garden, launching his career.
Today, 39 years later, Aguilar is an icon. At 44, the ranchera/mariachi singer with the velvety voice has found equal success in Latin pop. He is a composer, producer, an entrepreneur and an innovator who has launched his own label and digital marketing company. Aguilar has become the voice of a new generation of Mexican singers, straddling Mexican tradition with pop sensibility and reinventing the way his genre approaches the music business.
With a history of nearly 20 No. 1s on Billboard's Regional Mexican Airplay chart, nine top 10s on Hot Latin Songs, six top 10s on the Top Latin Albums tally and two No. 1s and 12 top 10s on Regional Mexican Albums, Aguilar is this year's recipient of Billboard's Legado Artistico, the Artistic Legacy Award.
"Pepe Aguilar, who has inherited an incomparable artistic tradition, is the well-deserved recipient of this award at the height of his career," says Jorge Pino, music VP for Venevision, Aguilar's licensee. "We are immensely proud to have him on our Venevision Musica roster."
The Artistic Legacy Award recognizes a lengthy and rich career that has influenced the genre and its artists. And Aguilar's influence is undeniable.
After a brief stint as a rocker in the late '80s, he released his first traditional Mexican album, "Pepe Aguilar Con Tambora", in 1990, and immediately struck a chord thanks to his distinctive vocal style: Aguilar was a mariachi singer who could croon. But he truly became a star with 1998's "Por Mujeres Como Tu", an album that married traditional mariachi with string-heavy pop arrangements. It was an explosive combination. The title track won Billboard's Hot Latin track of the year honors at the Billboard Latin Music Awards and made Aguilar a household name.
Thanks directly to Aguilar's contemporary readings on traditional music, radio stations that had never played mariachi opened up to the genre and, to this day, "romantic Mexican music" is the programming base of dozens of stations around the country.
A purveyor of new music as well as an advocate of history and tradition, Aguilar alternates between recording new material and classics, and in the past 18 months he has released pop and ranchero albums. The latter holds a special place for Aguilar, who's actively working to develop new talent in the ranchero/mariachi arena.
"It's very important to give this genre the importance that it deserves commercially and culturally," he says. "For many years ranchero singers were not too young, so it's very important to foster the music among young people. It's a huge responsibility, and is very important to have many ranchero singers in development."