12.09.12

Jenni Rivera, Mexico’s Queen of Banda, Dies in Plane Crash

The California-born singer was a superstar south of the border, where she sold out concerts, starred in her own reality show, and was beloved by many. Nina Strochlic on how a plane crash ended the life of a star who planned to become the Latina Oprah.

Jenni Rivera may not be a household name in the United States, but in our southern neighbor, the singer was a superstar. Not only had Rivera sold an astronomical 20 million albums, but the Mexican-American singer-songwriter was the star of a hit reality show that’s in its third season, and had a comedy in the works. The 43-year-old musical powerhouse recently had been named one of People en Español’s 25 most powerful women, not to mention one of the “50 Most Beautiful” people two years in a row.

Early Sunday morning a small private plane with Rivera and an entourage of seven, including her lawyer, makeup artist and publicist, went missing just 10 minutes after taking off from the airport in Monterrey, Mexico. Sunday night, the wreckage of the plane was found, with no survivors. A few minutes before the fatal crash, Rivera’s makeup artist Instagrammed a photo of the crew on the plane. “We getting Back To Mexico City….jenni Rivera , Arturo , Gigi and Me.. Los Amooo!” he wrote, as a caption to what’s now known to be their final moments.

It is tragic timing for the celebrated singer and budding actress, known across the Spanish-speaking world as the Queen of Banda—banda being a popular Mexican musical idiom. Just four days ago it was announced that Rivera had signed on to a new show called Jenni, which was to be a family comedy about a single Latina woman juggling a family and a business. Rivera had a full plate of projects: from preparing to judge Mexico’s version of The Voice to writing an autobiography and preparing to release a clothing line.

A TV program, I Love Jenni, currently in entering its third season, has revolved around the singer’s jet-setting life and family, which includes five children. It’s the No. 1 reality show on Hispanic cable, and Rivera told the Wall Street Journal this summer that she hoped it could cross over to American audiences. The Latina star was making bold moves in the world of TV and film. In 2012, she garnered critical acclaim for her role as a drug dealer in the film Filly Brown, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival for the U.S. Dramatic Competition.

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Born in Long Beach, California to Mexican immigrants, Riviera started her career in a family where music ran in the blood. All four of her brothers also have made careers in music.

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At first, Rivera put her business administration degree to use at her father’s record label, and in 1995, she emerged into the male-dominated banda music scene with her first album, Chacalosa. She would soon become known as the “Diva of Banda” and the “Queen of Banda.”

Tragedy has left a trail through her personal life. She had her first child in high school, and later married the father of her first three children, Jose Trinidad Marin. Years after the pair split, the family’s drama was made public when Marin was convicted of raping Rivera’s daughter and sister-in-law. She divorced her second husband in 2003, and he died just a few years later. In 2010, romance seemed to be in full bloom for Rivera when she wed again, this time baseball player Esteban Loaiza, in an event People en Espanol called “The Wedding of the Year.” Sadly, the marriage was not to last, and the couple split just this October. “I wish I never married him, that’s the truth,” she revealed on her radio program. “I suffered a lot and now I see it was a mistake. The things that happened were terrible, bad enough that I finally stood up and said ‘no more, I won’t take this anymore.’"

“I leave my children at home, get on a plane, risk my life in dangerous areas for my job,” Rivera once said.

As with most celebrities facing scrutiny from all sides, Rivera had a career that saw its fair share of drama. And occasionally her concerts had gotten a little out of control. Last year, her brother Juan Rivera, with whom she performed, punched a fan. In another incident, Jenni poured beer over the head of a drunken concertgoer. “Who do you think has more balls, me or you?” the feisty singer asked the fan. In 2008, she was arrested for assault after hitting a fan onstage with her microphone.

“I leave my children at home, get on a plane, risk my life in dangerous areas for my job,” Rivera once said. But she was willing to risk it, and up until tragedy struck, the Mexican-American superstar was taking the world of entertainment, music and fashion by storm. And she didn’t have any plans of stopping. She confidently told the Huffington Post just a few months ago: “I want to be the Mexican-American Oprah Winfrey. That’s a small goal, isn’t it?”