Sunday marked a devastating loss for the Latin music community with the death of Jenni Rivera, a Long Beach, California-based artist dubbed the “queen of grupero.” After a concert in Monterrey, Mexico, around 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, Rivera, age 43, boarded a private Learjet 25 with her publicist, stylist, lawyer, and make-up artist. All were headed to her next tour stop, when some 10 minutes after take-off, air traffic control lost the plane’s signal. Authorities discovered its burned-out remnants late Sunday night. No one survived the crash.
The fatal accident made for a tragic ending of Rivera’s life, one marked frequently by sadness, including three marriages and divorces. And though Rivera’s name might be unfamiliar to the typical English-language music fan, her influence in Mexican and Mexican-American music circles was huge. Though she may not have self-identified as such, Rivera was likely one of the closest things to a feminist in a genre sometimes called “grupero,” a mix of Mexican and Mexican-American styles like banda and norteño.
These styles’ superficially happy-sounding, brass- and accordion-heavy oompah sounds often belie rugged, even violent lyrics. A subset of norteño songs known as narcocorridos functions almost as an analog to American gangster rap, full of Rick Ross-like tales of drug-running. Rivera brought a decidedly different, independent take on all of this, choosing more personal lyrics that sang of empowerment and bouncing back from life’s hard knocks.
More seriously, though, Rivera spoke out for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. These were issues that touched her own life. Though she divorced her first husband, José Trinidad Marín, in 1992, she later learned he had molested his own daughter and sister-in-law, for which he was convicted in 2006. Stemming from this, Rivera later became spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-basd. National Coalition Against Battered Women and Domestic Violence
But Rivera was also a progressive ally regarding other issues, as well, which often earned her sharp criticism that did little to deter her famous outspokenness. In 2010, she spoke out against Arizona’s SB1070 law, even joining a five-mile march against it in 100-degree-plus heat before performing later that night in the state.
In an even more rare move in the Latin music industry, Rivera even spoke in support of LGBT issues. Last year, she participated in GLAAD’s Spirit Day, meant to help stop bullying in extend support to LGBT youth. She also hosted representatives from the organization on her radio show, and performed in the group’s color, purple, at the Billboard Mexican music awards.
With thousands and thousands of fans on both sides of the border, Rivera’s sphere of influence only grew with each album. When so many of her peers took pains to avoid controversy, she instead used her position as a catalyst for change. Rivera’s too-early loss is more than just a musical one.