Jenni Rivera lived her life much like the music that made her famous. And that tireless passion -- especially during her demanding live shows -- thrilled and empowered female audiences with songs of heartache and love. Like one of her commanding ballads, her life too was filled with dreams, triumphs and hardships that fans embraced. In return, her followers were a loyal group that cheered on the once-struggling American-born songstress, who started with very little and became one of the biggest regional Mexican female singers in U.S. history.
News that Rivera's plane crashed during the cold and early-morning hours of Dec. 9 in northeastern Mexico, reached a fever pitch on the Internet, interrupting TV programs and radio shows in the U.S. and beyond as family, friends and fans anxiously waited to hear if the singer had survived. Instead, by mid-afternoon, it was confirmed that everyone on board died. The vessel was discovered on a Inturbe ranch in the state of Nuevo León, near Monterrey, where Rivera boarded the aircraft with her publicist Arturo Rivera; stylist Jorge Sanchez; makeup artist Jacobo Lienares; attorney Mario Macias; and the pilots. All were confirmed dead by Mexican authorities.
At 43 years old, Rivera, known as the "Diva of Banda," became a lucrative brand that was beginning to show crossover appeal, propelled by her English-language reality show, "I Love Jenni," on cable network mun2 (owned by NBC Universal). In 2012, the show entered it's second season and continues to reach bilingual and bicultural Latino consumers in the United States.
But Rivera's business ventures don't end there. She's had success in music, TV, clothing, cosmetics, radio, film and was also writing a memoir. Her frank and openness as a struggling mother with failed relationships made her fodder for the tabloids, but even more popular as women related to Rivera's trials and tribulations.
"[Her female fans] see something in her that's familiar," AEG Live/Goldenvoice VP of Latin talent Rebeca Leon told Billboard during a previous interview for a special feature. "She's a regular girl, lives in English, sings in Spanish and her music is about empowering women."
Rivera may not have been a mainstream name in the English-language marketplace, but that was changing. Her reach in Latin music was strong and growing. Under Universal Music Latin Entertainment's (UMLE) Fonovisa label, she was a regular charting artist with almost every album in the United States. She had four No. 1s and seven Top 10s on Billboard's Top Latin Albums, and a No. 1, as well as 10 singles on the Top 10 of regional Mexican Airplay chart, among other achievements.
UMLE executive VP of brand partnerships, business development and digital Gustavo Lopez said in a past interview that Rivera's down-to-earth approach to business made her likable.
"Jenni can be tough, but in a loving way," Lopez said.
She sold more than 1.2 million albums in the U.S., but her sales in Latin America were also strong and she conquered fans in Mexico as well -- a rare feat for an American-born singer. Many of her concerts were filled to capacity and in her last show in Monterrey had more than 15,000 people in attendance, according to reports.
A year ago, Rivera signed a lucrative long-term, cross-platform production deal with bilingual music cable network mun2. And prior to that she renewed her contract with UMLA/Fonovisa, which released her album, "Joyas Persuades" (Borrowed Jewelry), in two versions: pop and Banda.
One of Rivera's biggest accomplishments in 2012 was appearing in the independent movie "Filly Brown," which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film is scheduled for release through Indomina Releasing in late April, according to Edward James Olmos, who co-stars in the film about an aspiring Latina rapper whose drug-addicted mother (Rivera) is in prison. The movue was directed by Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos, and also stars Lou Diamond Phillips and Gina Rodriguez.
For the film, Olmos also recorded the song "Hurts So Bad" with Rivera, an oldies-themed composition. The soundtrack's producers, the Los Angeles-based Lisa "Khool-Aid" Rios and Edward "E-Dub" Rios, in earlier interviews said they were hoping to include the Olmos-Rivera duet on the final soundtrack when the film is released next year.
"News of plane crash tore my heart out," Edward James Olmos says. "Jenni was just an amazing force. From the very beginning I've said that she could garner an Academy Award for her work in 'Filly Brown.' She had a tough life, but she also had an extraordinary gift. She touched millions of people and she'll be missed."
Earlier this year, Rivera spoke to Billboard about her plans to appear on Mexico's version of "The Voice." It was during that interview when she revealed she was also writing a book.
"A few chapters into the book I had to take a break," Rivera said. "Some of the things that I've been through are difficult to write about. But I will finish the book."
Her manager, Pete Salgado, was Rivera's longtime representative and said that the singer had many projects in the works. In recent months it was reported that Rivera was eyeing an English-language program at a major network. Additionally, she led a busy career with a consistent touring schedule.
At the premiere party in early 2012 of the second season of the mun2 reality program "I Love Jenni," Rivera was glowing as she spoke to members of the media and chatted the night away with her friends, family and husband, Esteban Loaiza (from whom she would separate a few months later).
"I'm happy," Rivera said. "I'm in a good place. Yes, I'm happy."