The Rivera family; back row, L-R: Juan, Jenni, Lupillo, Gustavo; front row: Pedro Jr., Rosy, Don Juan, Doña Rosa (Photo: Marco Antonio Gonzales Velasco)
In the early hours of Sunday, December 2, Jenni Rivera made a surprise appearance on stage at a rodeo in Texcoco, Mexico, where her brother, corrido star Lupillo Rivera, was performing. It was an emotional reunion for the siblings, who were publicly known to be estranged in recent years. According to reports in the Mexican press, the Riveras had a tearful tequila toast to each other and their fans, and sang Jenni's top ten Regional Mexican chart hit "Ya lo Sé."
"I was waiting for this visit for about seven years," said Lupillo, who has had 18 charting albums on the Top Latin Albums chart, including two No. 1s: "Despreciado" and "Con Mis Propias Manos." "Although my father, Don Pedro Rivera, told me since I was little kid that men shouldn't cry, I wish that he were here so I could show him that even the biggest macho son-of-a-bitch pours tears in the presence of this wild woman."
"I just came to give back to him so much that he has given to me since I was a little girl," his sister replied. "Although we have had our family differences, he knows how much I love him."
One week later, Lupillo Rivera cried again, this time with tears of grief. On the evening of December 9, he appeared outside a family home in Los Angeles with his father, Don Pedro Rivera, and brother Gustavo to announce before television cameras that the death of his sister Jenni in a plane crash had been confirmed.
One of six children, Jenni was the most famous member of the Regional Mexican musical family commonly called the Rivera Dynasty. Its patriarch, Don Pedro, was an immigrant who came with his wife, Rosa Saavedra, to Southern California just before Jenni was born (the couple later separated, and divorced in 2011). Lupillo, whose success proceeded Jenni's, had his break when a singer failed to show up for a recording session, and became an artist known for his tough corrido style. Brother Juan has had two albums on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart. Gustavo Rivera started his recording career in 1994. Pedro Jr., who is a pastor, performs Christian music.
"Mexican music runs through my veins," Jenni told Billboard in 2011. "Growing up, my father didn't allow us to listen to English music at home. That's all I heard. I had no choice."
The Riveras sold cassettes at swap meets, where the children manned a booth, and Pedro started a taco business, among other enterprises. Determined to break into the insular Regional Mexican music industry, he finally started to see success in the early '90s with a record label, Cintas Acuario.
Jenni had earned a degree in business administration and was selling real estate when she started helping her father run the company, joining her brothers. Though their father did not steer them into singing careers, they soon caught the performing bug.
They recorded their first album as a family, "Guera Rivera Con Banda", as a gift for their father's birthday in 1993, following it up the next year with "Con Los Viajeros del Norte". Jenni was a single mother of three when she started her solo career, and against all odds, this woman in the man's world of banda music became a superstar.
"When you get up on stage an hear the applause, that's what makes you addicted to this," she said at the Billboard Mexican Music Awards summit in 2009, where the members of the Rivera Dynasty made a rare appearance together to talk about their careers and family.
On that occasion -- against the advice he had given Lupillo -- Don Pedro wept as he told the story of Jenni wanting to stop performing early on. As the tears flowed, her father recalled that Jenni had agreed to do a show for just $300, but after she performed was told by the promoter there would be no pay unless she slept with him. She told her father she was through with the music business.
"I said to her, 'It's okay if you quit, but please do me a favor first," Don Pedro recalled. "And that is when I asked her to do a corridos album."
Jenni wrote her first corrido in 1994. Called "La Chacalosa," it told the story of a female drug dealer who learned the business from her father. In 1999, Fonovisa released the album "Que Me Entierren con La Banda." Including the hit "Las Malandrinas," it marked the beginning of her success.
"I'm living a true Mexican-American dream," Rivera told Billboard last year.
On Sunday night, as Don Pedro met the press to express his disbelief at his daughter's death, for a time he was too stunned to even cry, staring straight ahead as reporters' microphones were extended toward his mouth.
"My queen," he said. "We will see each other there soon."