She's had back-to-back sold-out shows at the Nokia Theatre, was nominated for multiple Latin Grammy Awards and sold more than 15 million albums worldwide while recently making the New York Times Best Sellers list, and as early as 3 a.m on a recent morning, fans of late Banda music super star Jenni Rivera began to line up for her latest album.
They stood for hours in front of the glass doors of a sleek new boutique in a small outdoor shopping mall in Panorama City. Some chanted “Jenni,” while others sang her songs as they waited. Many wore shirts emblazoned with her image, some were even tattooed with portraits of the Long Beach-born singer.
They were at the Jenni Rivera Boutique to buy her just-released live album, “1969-Siempre,” (1969-Forever) which was recorded at her final concert in Monterrey, Mexico, the day before she was killed in a plane crash as she headed to the city of Toluca in central Mexico. The crash was on Dec. 9, 2012, just hours after her sold-out three-hour concert.
Rivera's mother, Rosa, her younger sister, Rosie, and her daughter, Jacqui, were at the record release last week signing copies of albums and photos for fans.
“It was so hard. We saw it on TV like everyone else,” Rosie told a crowd of reporters as she entered the boutique. “I did everything possible to convince my mom that maybe it was an error. We were hoping she was alive, we wanted more than anything for that to be real, but we're 100 percent sure she is in heaven.”
The 43-year-old singer, known as “La Diva de la Banda,” died just as she was beginning to branch out to a wider audience thanks, in part, to a successful reality TV show that broadened her reach beyond music fans, and a sitcom deal with ABC to star in a comedy called “Jenni,” which she signed less than a week before the crash.
Now, a year after her death, Rivera's music and business empire continues to grow, with U.S. album sales more than doubling in 2013 and the new 2,000-square-foot boutique store, which opened in November that sells her recently released line of jeans, track suits, perfume and other products. Her autobiography “Unbreakable: My Story, My Way,” was released in July and quickly made the New York Times Best Seller list. Forbes recently named her to its list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities. With $7 million in earnings through October of this year, she was 12th on the list.
Rivera's legacy follows a tragic parallel to the deaths of other celebrities whose careers continued to soar after their passing, industry experts say. It's also following the plans Rivera left behind, her family and friends say, calling her not just a passionate artist but a smart businesswoman with long-term dreams that are being realized posthumously.
“She had plans to do it all,” said Pedro Rivera Jr., her brother, who is a Long Beach pastor.
He said that she had the plans all mapped out and as per Rivera's instructions before she died, her younger sister Rosie and brother Juan Rivera were left in charge of the business, her brother said.
Pedro said that Rosie has been doing a great job ensuring that all of Jenni's plans keep moving forward.
Rivera was born in Long Beach in 1969 to immigrant parents. She released her first album in 1995 and has since sold more than 15 million albums worldwide, earning various gold, platinum and double-platinum records. She was nominated for awards at the 2003, 2008 and 2010 Latin Grammys and was the first female Banda artist to sell out two back-to-back nights at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Aug. 6 and 7 in 2010. The Grammy Museum in downtown L.A. is currently holding an exhibit on the singer that features costumes, some of her writings, notes and video footage from her career.
In 2012, she sold 281,000 albums in the U.S. But so far this year, Rivera has sold more than 630,000 albums, according to Dave Bakula, senior vice president of Client Development and Insights for Nielsen Entertainment, which tracks numbers and trends in the entertainment industry. She has now sold about two million albums in the United States.
Similar spikes in sales occurred when 23-year-old Tejano singer Selena was killed in 1995 and more recently when Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson died, he said.
“It's not surprising that it's following that pattern. That's the kind of thing that we anticipate in a case like this,” he said. “Fans go out and try to pick up as much as they can and we see those spikes in sales happen immediately.”
And in the weeks leading up to the one-year anniversary of her death, Bakula said they have seen an additional 10 to 15 percent rise in her album sales.
“That's a good indicator that fans are still there and her fan base is still growing,” he said.
Rivera had particularly loyal fans who admired her music and how she overcame life travails, especially as she made a name for herself in a male-dominated musical genre, music experts said.
“She was one of the rare women in regional Mexican music who rose in the ranks. She has a special place in the heart of her female fans,” said Josh Kun, a USC musicologist and professor.
In her music, which is a brass-based style of traditional Mexican music driven by a polka beat, Rivera sang about relationships, infidelity and domestic abuse. She shared even more of herself in her autobiography, including her rape in 1997. She also wrote about experimenting with drugs and about finding out her first husband had abused her sister and eldest daughter.
“She shared every aspect of her life, all of her faults, all her missteps, and that endeared her in a very deep way to her fans who saw her as a friend, and not as a superstar,” Kun said.
That's the way Erica Lemus, who has a portrait of Rivera tattooed on her forearm, said she saw her idol: As a person she could relate to and not just as a music star.
“I've been a fan since she started. She was strong, she would be down but get right back up. I loved the words in her songs, everything about her,” said Lemus, who arrived at the 1 p.m. record release event Tuesday at 3 a.m. with about 15 other members of J-Unit, a Rivera fan club that has more that 13,000 members.
Before her death Rivera was reaching beyond her musical fan base with a family-based reality TV show,“I Love Jenni,” on mun2tv, the Latino entertainment cable networ premiered in March 2011 and starred the singer and her family — she was a mother of five and grandmother of two. The show followed their often chaotic lives, their music business and growing empire. Rivera was the executive producer of the show.
The show's third and final season reached a total of 5.5 million people during its 18 weeks on the air, making it the network's highest-rated reality TV series. In 2013, the series has had more than eight million video streams on mun2tv and more than one million video On Demand views, according to network officials.
On Monday, the network will dedicate the day to Rivera by airing the final season of the show starting at 6 a.m. The network also will host a live on-air Twitter event from 2-10 p.m. EST so fans can share their thoughts on Rivera.
“I think Jenni's legacy is going to be everlasting. The connection that Jenni had with her fans is so deep,” said Diana Mogollon, executive vice president and general manager for mun2.
Meanwhile, her family is also planning a tribute concert in Mexico on Monday in Monterrey, where she performed her last show, with various artists performing her songs.
Pedro Rivera, her older brother, said the family will fly to Mexico to attend the show and honor La Diva de la Banda along with her fans.
They will likely do something privately as well, where they can remember Rivera the daughter, sister, mother and grandmother, who was funny, kind and headstrong.
“I have so many memories of her. Tears always come to my eyes when I think of the good times, the fights, the asking forgiveness later,” he said. “Jenni was dedicated, very loyal, very honest and that's how I remember her. She said what she wanted to say and she did it with love.”