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Cancer Claims Singer Soraya at 37

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Cancer Claims Singer Soraya at 37

Remembrances

Cancer Claims Singer Soraya at 37

Cancer Claims Singer Soraya at 37

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The Colombian-American singer Soraya has died of breast cancer at age 37. The singer-songwriter was known for integrating Latin and non-Latin music. In her seven-year fight with the disease, Soraya had taken the disease on as a cause, singing as well as speaking about it.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

A performer who made it her mission to educate women about breast cancer has died of the disease. The Colombian-American singer-songwriter Soraya passed away earlier this week. She was 37-years-old. Soraya wrote and performed in both English and Spanish. She toured with Sting and Peter Gabriel and she was a rising star on Spanish language radio.

NPR's Felix Contreras has this remembrance.

FELIX CONTRERAS: Even though Soraya wrote most of her songs twice, once in English and once in Spanish, she never repeated herself. Lyrics in each language addressed the same theme with an equally artful set of words while tied to the same melodies and chords.

(SOUNDBITE OF SORAYA'S MUSIC)

CONTRERAS: Soraya wrote songs with her childhood hero, Carole King. She visited Nashville often to write music and play her guitars and mandolins. She was also steeped in the traditions of her Colombian born parents. In 2000, she released an album critics felt would raise her profile in both languages. And then shortly after the album's release, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

She had known she was high risk because her grandmother, her mother and her mother's sister all died from the disease. Before her diagnosis, she had approached the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation to use her growing popularity on Spanish language radio for cancer education. After her diagnosis, she stepped up her outreach work. During her treatment, Soraya continued to write songs and recorded an album on the days she felt well enough to go into the studio. Leila Cobo is Latin bureau chief for Billboard magazine.

LEILA COBO: Her lyrics weren't like, I have cancer, I almost died, oh, woe be me. Nothing like that. You know they were very life affirming. And really if you didn't know that she had cancer, you wouldn't. She was just direct and her lyrics were very eloquent at every level.

(SOUNDBITE OF SORAYA'S SONG CASI)

CONTRERAS: The song Casi, or Almost, is her most direct reference to the illness. I almost lost faith, the lyrics say. I almost lost love. I almost lost my innocence. I lost the strength I need to fight one more day and I almost gave up.

When Soraya went public with her cancer, fans flooded her website with letters of support. The also wrote to her of their own stories of battling the disease. In an 2002 interview with NPR, she said that was an inspiration.

SORAYA: And within those emails, I realized that women were thanking me. They were either going through it themselves or they had lost their mom or they had lost their sister or a husband couldn't get his wife inspired enough to go out with him, even though she had lost her hair. So many stories that were just heartbreaking that I said, okay, if I'm feeling okay, then we're going to try to fix this a little bit.

CONTRERAS: Soraya's manager says the singer wrote a book while she was dying. It's being edited and prepared for publication. In a statement written shortly before her death, Soraya indicated the book is meant to offer encouragement to continue what she called her mission, early detection and prevention of breast cancer. And if her existing body of work is any indication, Soraya's final words will also be an affirmation of art, life and the need to find a cure for breast cancer.

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

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