Special Feature: Billboard Latin Music Conference & Awards - Prince of Song

JOSé JOSé's LIFETIME OF ROMANCEby LEILA COBO

Every fan of romantic Latin ballads has had a love affair with Jose Romulo Sosa Ortiz, better-known as Jose Jose. The Mexican singer, who at 65 years old is celebrating his 50th anniversary in the music business, has popularized some of the most enduring and beautiful compositions in the Latin American songbook. "El Triste," "Lo Pasado," "Pasado," "Payaso," "Gavilán y Paloma" and "La Nave del Olvido," to name just a few, all became standards thanks to Jose Jose's extraordinary voice. It's a voice that earned him the moniker "El Príncipe de la Cancion--The Prince of Song."

So riveting is the voice, so enduring the repertoire, that through the years Jose Jose has sparked dozens of tribute albums, most recently by Cristian Castro, whose career was revived thanks to "Viva el Principe," his 2010 tribute to Jose Jose.

With nearly 40 million copies sold worldwide, according to Sony Music Latin, and nine Grammy Award nominations, Jose Jose is the recipient of this year's Billboard Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor recognizes a landmark career in Latin romantic music that continues to endure today, not only through the many artists that have emulated and covered the music popularized by Jose Jose  but by the many composers whose music he took around the world and by the singer himself, who this year will release an album celebrating his five decades in the industry.

Born to a family of musicians in Mexico--his father was an operatic tenor, his mother a pianist--Jose Jose (he tacked on the second Jose to his name in his father's memory) began to sing for a living in 1963, giving serenatas (serenades) on city streets. His first record deal came in 1965, when a friend asked him to sing a serenade for his sister's birthday.

"And she happened to be the executive secretary for the managing director of Orfeon Records," he recalls. "And she said, 'You sing very well. Would you like to audition for the label?' And I did, and they hired me in October 1965. Under my real name, Pepe Sosa, I recorded 'El Mundo' by Jimmy Fontana and 'Ma Vie' by Alain Barrier. My deal was for one single per year."

But Jose Jose s songs were deemed too "elegant" for commercial radio--until 1969, when he recorded "La Nave del Olvido," written by Dino Ramos. It was his breakthrough.

"To this day, every time I sing, I have to sing that song and 'El Triste,'"Jose Jose told Billboard in 2003. "Can you imagine, young kids now ask me for 'La Nave del Olvido' and 'El Triste.' When young people fall in love, they start to understand my music."

Nicknamed "El Príncipe" after his hit of the same name by Manuel Marroquín, Jose Jose also had monumental setbacks: bankruptcy, alcoholism, illness and a diminishment of his vocal qualities. He overcame all to return to the stage.

That he is still relevant today, still touring, still recording and still on the Billboard stage is a testament to not only talent but great commitment.

In a fitting coincidence, Jose Jose will be honored two days after the inaugural Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame gala, where he'll also perform, recognizing the songwriters who made his success possible through the years.

"We recorded important songs by important musicians," Jose Jose said when asked why his music has endured. "One of the advantages I've had as an interpreter--because I'm not a composer-=is I've had the fortune of working with great composers. Armando Manzanero, Rafael Perez Botija, Manuel Alejandro. These are the people who have built my career."

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