Jenni Rivera is mourned, but still inspires

Story highlights

Sen. Marco Rubio calls Rivera "a real American success story"

Not only for her music but for her strong, resilient attitude when faced with adversity

Jenni Rivera was also a woman of many firsts and a businesswoman

Made breaking into the male-dominated music genre look easy with her perseverance

CNN  — 

Jenni Rivera is being mourned as the Diva of Banda, after the musical superstar died Sunday in a plane crash in Mexico.

She built a recording and performing career, several businesses and a devoted following – and her life was as full of the ups and the downs as any of the characters she sang about.

She was born 43 years ago in Long Beach, California, to Mexican parents Rosa and Pedro Rivera who named her Jenny Dolores Rivera Saavedra.

In an interview with CNN en Español in 2010, Rivera spoke about how she once sold cans for scrap metal and hawked music records at her family’s stand at a Los Angeles flea market.

When she was just 15 and a high school student she became a mother herself, giving birth to her first child, Janney “Chiquis” Marin Rivera in 1985. She then had two more children – Jacqueline Marín Rivera and Michael Marín Rivera – with her then-husband, José Trinidad Marín.

Rivera spoke about how Marín physically abused her because while she wanted to attend college, he wanted her to quit school and be at home “cooking and cleaning.” She said she grew up with four brothers so she knew how to fight back.

They divorced in 1992 when Rivera found out Marín molested their daughter, Janney, and Rivera’s younger sister, Rosie. Marín was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Divorced and on welfare with three children, Rivera worked in real estate and took a second job at her father’s record label, Cintas Acuario, which led to her passion and career in Regional/Banda/Norteño music.

Since the release of her groundbreaking debut album “La Chacalosa” in 1995, Rivera has released more than 12 hit albums, all reaching Platinum and Gold status in the U.S. and Mexico. Her heart-wrenching ballads often center on infidelity, social issues and relationships. One of her independent albums was “Farewell to Selena,” a tribute album to slain singer Selena that helped expand her following.

Rivera married Juan López in 1997 and had two children with him: Jenicka and Johnny López Rivera. They divorced in 2003, and he then died in 2009. Then in 2010, Rivera married baseball player Esteban Loaiza but they filed for divorce earlier this year.

Perhaps it was her personal struggles that made Rivera known not only for her music but for her strong, resilient attitude when faced with adversity.

“In Mexico, she represented a lot of ladies that can’t talk about their feelings,” Jose “Pepe” Garza, Rivera’s godfather and friend of the family, told CNN en Espanol. “The public feels represented by Jenni Rivera, and by the lyrics of her songs.”

Garza is very well-known within the banda and norteña music genres and has worked with other big artists in the regional Latin music. He also gave Rivera her big break.

Rivera was also a woman of many firsts. She became the first artist to sell-out two back-to-back nights at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, California, in 2010. And she was the first female Banda artist to sell-out a concert at the Gibson Amphitheater in Universal City, California.

The business mogul also started companies including: Divina Realty, Divina Cosmetics, Jenni Rivera Fragrance, Jenni Jeans, Divine Music and The Jenni Rivera Love Foundation. Rivera made her film debut at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival with the indie family drama Filly Brown, set to be in theaters in January 2013.

Her fan base was only expected to grow with a show in development with ABC, confirmed a source with knowledge of the deal to CNN Entertainment.

A multi-camera family comedy, according to Deadline, was expected to star Rivera as a strong, middle-class, single Latina woman working to raise a family, struggling to run a family business and manage her extended family – all while fighting the cultural perception that she needed a man to do it all.

“It is very flattering when they tell me I’m a great artist and performer,” said Rivera in a 2010 interview with CNN en Espanol. “But I am a businesswoman, I’m primarily business-minded.”

Breaking into a male-dominated music genre was not easy, but Rivera made it look that way with her endless perseverance.

“I think she just did it with her pantelones, and you need a big personality to do it. She’s been through so much,” said Damarys Ocana, executive editor of Latina magazine, in an interview with CNN, “She’s been a victim, but never thought of herself as a victim.”

The drama that surrounded Rivera’s life received just as much attention as her successful, career but that never stopped her from being a “mama bear to her five kids,” said Ocana. Family always came first for Rivera.

Flashback: Jenni Rivera reflects on her success

In May 2011, Latina magazine put both Jenni and Janney Rivera on their cover, the first time the magazine put two people on the cover.

“We put both of them on the cover because they were the stars of ‘I Love Jenni’ and the show was doing incredibly well on Mun2,” said Ocana.

Rivera also spent part of her life volunteering at the Love Foundation, an organization that promotes programs to support immigrants, children with cancer, women victims of violence, reports CNN Mexico.

In 2010, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence named Rivera as their spokesperson.

Photos: Singer Jenni Rivera

Speaking on the U.S. Senate floor Monday afternoon, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida described Rivera as “a real American success story.”

“She was a singer in a genre of music that’s largely dominated by males, and she brought a powerful voice to that genre where she sang frankly about her struggles to give her children a better life in this country,” he said.

Universal Music Group also released a statement, saying: “The entire Universal Music Group family is deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our dear friend Jenni Rivera. The world rarely sees someone who has had such a profound impact on so many. From her incredibly versatile talent to the way she embraced her fans around the world, Jenni was simply incomparable. Her talent will be missed; but her gift of music will be with us always.”

Also believed aboard the plane were her publicist, Arturo Rivera, her lawyer, makeup artist, Jacob Yebale, and the flight crew.

“It’s hard to accept. It’s painful. I cry,” said Rivera’s brother Gustavo Rivera in an interview with CNN en Espanol, “But the support from the fans is consoling to us.”

She told CNN in 2010 that she wouldn’t let scandals or personal tragedy stop her.

“Staying defeated, crying and suffering was not an option,” she said. “I had to get off my feet, dust myself off and press on. That’s what I want to teach my daughters.”

In an interview with the Immigrant Archive Project she said:

“If I had the opportunity to speak to a young immigrant girl that just arrived to the U.S. the advice I would have for her would be: ask, speak, search; because there are opportunities out there. And, know that you aren’t the only immigrant or the last to come to this country. Many that have come before you have succeeded. It is possible.”

Jenni Rivera is survived by her parents, Rosa and Pedro, three other siblings: Pedro Jr., Gustavo and Rosie; and her five children: Janney, Jacqueline, Michael, Jenicka and Johnny.

Journalist Jaqueline Hurtado, Catherine Shoichet and Rafael Romo contributed to this report.