La Diva de la Banda: Honoring the life and legacy of music icon Jenni Rivera

Her rise to fame in a male-dominated genre was unprecedented and her musical talent won the hearts of millions. This is her story.

ByJessica Dominguez OTRC logo
Sunday, December 12, 2021
La Diva de la Banda: Remembering music icon Jenni Rivera
Singer Jenni Rivera from Long Beach catapulted to stardom in a male-dominated genre and became one of the most successful Banda artists of all-time. This is her life and legacy.

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Known as "La Diva de la Banda," Jenni Rivera became the most successful female artists of all time in Banda music, a Mexican regional genre.

"She sang about women for women. She was a single mother who became the sole provider for her family and would literally do anything she could for her children," said Griselda Flores, a senior writer for Billboard.

"This is a woman who went from teenage mother to musical powerhouse," said ABC7 Los Angeles anchor Jovana Lara.

Jenni was famously known for singing rancheras and corridos, which is traditional music rooted in the Mexican and Latino culture.

Jenni Rivera's triumphs and tragedy

"She holds almost all the records," said Flores. "We're talking millions of records sold, and so I think it opened people's eyes to the fact that men aren't the only ones who can get those numbers."

Many would agree that Jenni was once on top of the music world. Her rise to fame in a male-dominated genre was unprecedented and her musical talent won the heart of millions of fans, especially women who felt connected to her authenticity on stage.

Then, on Dec. 8, 2012, the singer flew out to perform at a sold out show in Monterrey, Mexico.

"Thousands of fans were there to see this amazing performance," said Robert Holguin, a former ABC7 Los Angeles reporter. "Holds a news conference, even talks to reporters, flies out of Monterrey with her entourage, and then the jet just goes missing."

"I'd never really heard of Jenni Rivera, but I knew it was a big story," said Frank Alli, a photographer for ABC7 Los Angeles. "It didn't really hit me until we arrived there, and I saw fans lined up at the morgue, tons of media."

At that point, officials had located scattered items potentially belonging to the singer and six others, but no immediate finding or confirmation of human remains.

"This really tragic story came into clear focus," said Holguin.

Within days of the plane going missing, Mexican authorities confirmed Jenni and six others had died in a plane crash.

Her family was devastated, her children's lives were forever changed and fans worldwide mourned the tragic loss of the 43-year-old artist who was truly just beginning to share her incredible talents with the world.

"It was a very emotional scene to capture," said Alli. "The impact that she had was similar to the impact [Kobe Bryant] had on fans in Southern California. It was more of emotional connection that intensified their loss even more."

Mexico's Aviation Investigation Agency concluded a series of factors that may have contributed to the accident: the age of the pilot and the age of the aircraft.

The report from Mexican Aviation officials also noted the owner of the plane neglected to report previous problems with the aircraft's operation before the nightside flight.

Jenni Rivera's roots and rise to stardom

Jenni was born and raised in Long Beach, California, to a Mexican-American family. Her mother, Rosa Rivera, played an important role in shaping who she became.

The Rivera family has deep musical roots in the entertainment industry, beginning with the family patriarch, Don Pedro Rivera.

"The Rivera last name has a lot of weight in the industry. Her dad, Don Pedro Rivera, is a staple to this day in regional Mexican," said Flores.

Don Rivera is known for being instrumental in advancing musical careers, such as Chalino Sanchez and his own son, Lupillo Rivera.

Jenni attended Polytechnic High School, and although she was "kicked out" for becoming pregnant as a teenager, she eventually earned her GED and graduated valedictorian of her high school class.

In fact, she went on to earn a bachelor's degree in business administration from Cal State University Long Beach. She was business savvy, but it was her singing voice that captured the hearts of fans.

Then, after singing for about six years in 1999, she decided to fully pursue a professional singing career. It was then when her stardom quickly rose.

"Her lyrics were very intimate and personal and powerful," said Flores.

"Her music would just empower me," said Kathy Rojas, a fan from Los Angeles.

At 43, Jenni was the most successful female singer in the male-dominated Banda genre.

"On stage, she bared her soul. It was her music and her candid lyrics that catapulted her to fame," said Lara.

Jenni went on to win 22 Billboard Latin Music Awards.

"She was just so for everyone. Song titles, like for example, my favorites are like "Reina de Reinas." She just encompasses it all and so well," said Guzman.

Women gravitated to Jenni's authenticity and ability to sing about her failure, shortcomings, successes and triumphs.

Female fans felt acknowledged and seen by Jenni's music. The Long Beach native brought a much-needed female perspective to the genre.

"So her fans adapted her songs as their anthems," said Flores.

"So many people who did not support her career at all, and she got the, 'You're too old, you weigh too much'," said Antonia Garcia-Orozco, an associate professor at Cal State University Long Beach.

The music superstar dealt with heartbreak, failed relationships, domestic violence, sexism and discrimination, yet she pushed forward.

"Her aura is amazing," said Martin Flores, a musician with the Joyas Prestadas tribute band who worked with the singer on her last record.

"Jenni was bigger than real life, and when she related to her audience, she can make them cry, she can make them laugh, she can make them party," said Bob Bernstein, another musician with the Joyas Prestadas tribute band.

Flores said Jenni proved to women that they also overcome trials and succeed in any field they choose as long as they work hard and don't give up.

Jenni Rivera's children

Beyond the music, to truly know Jenni, her story begins in Long Beach with her family.

"There's Jenni the artist and there's Jenni the mom. I think I always miss her more as a mom," said Jacqie Rivera, Jenni's daughter.

Jenni had five children: Chiquis, Mike, Jenicka, Johnny and Jacqie.

"My mom was the type of person that didn't take what she had for granted," said Johnny Lopez, Jenni's youngest son. "She just had such a comforting, loving presence, and I think that's what all of us miss collectiveness about her."

"I wish a lot of people knew this more. Her faith was really big, and I think it's because she acknowledged that it was because of God that she got to where she was," said Jacqie Rivera.

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Nine years after the death of Mexican American superstar Jenni Rivera, her daughter, Jacqie, has released a cover of "Hurt" as a tribute to her mother.

"When it comes to like, the idea of glamour, she fit that, but she was also the most simple of people too, and that's my favorite version of my mom," said Mike Rivera, Jenni's oldest son.

Her children said they've inherited their mother's strength, strong faith and humility.

Jenni Rivera's legacy

Part of Jenni's legacy is seen in her devoted fan base.

Frank Rojas and his mother, Kathy Rojas, are long-time Jenni fans based in L.A. They say her life positively impacted them when they needed it most.

"She really helped me own being a gay man and being a gay Mexican man," said Rojas. "It just felt like you were there on stage with her."

Kathy Rojas believes there will be "never be any one else" like Jenni.

"She stood up for the gay community when it wasn't cool or other people were not and definitely not people in música regional," said Eduardo Lucero, one of Jenni's designers. "She gave the gay community hope."

Jenni inspired so many people from all walks of life, and although there are many tragic elements to her story, there's much to celebrate.

"She had the musical savvy, the business savvy, the social savvy," said Garcia-Orozco. "We will honor her and respect her music and teach it to future generations."

"Year after year, Selena Quintanilla and Jenni Rivera top our Billboard charts, so to me that's someone who is a legacy artist," said Flores.

Jenni's children hope their mother's legacy will inspire people to follow their dreams no matter what comes their way.

"Whatever it may be if they're going through domestic violence, or, you know, their life didn't go as they planned to just keep believing because if it could happen for her, some girl from Long Beach, it could happen for them," said Jacqie Rivera.

You can hear more from Jenni Rivera's children and explore her incredible legacy in "On The Red Carpet: Remembering Jenni Rivera," airing Saturday at 10 p.m. on ABC7.

For more updates on the singer, follow Jenni Rivera on Facebook or Instagram or follow her music and fashion websites.