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At the age of 43, Jenni Rivera was an institution in Spanish language entertainment. She was a hugely popular singer, a reality television star and a producer of several TV shows. Jenni Rivera was preparing to cross over to English language media when she died last night. She just finished a concert in Monterey when her plane went down in Northern Mexico. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has an appreciation.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Many of Jenni Rivera's fans in Southern California have been leaving flowers and candles outside her family's homes and in Plaza Mexico, a shopping mall in the L.A. suburb of Lynwood. Twenty-six-year old Vernice Cornejo stopped by to pay her respects by singing her favorite Jenni Rivera song.

VERNICE CORNEJO: (Singing foreign language)

BARCO: Cornejo says even though the song is about a hardworking, hard-drinking woman, Rivera was a role model for her fans.

CORNEJO: Hispanic women, we go through a lot of physical abuse, mental abuse. And she actually said it herself as she went through it, and she wanted us to see in her that she made it so we could've made it just the way she made it.

BARCO: Rivera became popular for singing about her own troubles, the domestic violence she suffered as a young woman, her struggles with weight, being a single mother and her three failed marriages.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA GRAN SENORA")

JENNI RIVERA: (Singing foreign language)

BARCO: Jenni Rivera was known as the diva of banda music, a brass polka style popularized in Northern Mexico and with Mexican immigrants in the U.S. She was born in Long Beach, California, had her first child when she was 16, got a degree in business administration and tried her hand at real estate. But her family was becoming a Mexican-American musical dynasty. Her four brothers, including superstar Lupillo Rivera, all perform. They grew up going to swap meets where their father, Pedro Rivera, started his music business selling mixtapes. Pedro eventually launched his own record label producing narcocorridos, ballads celebrating Mexican drug traffickers. Outside his home last night, Rivera thanked fans and asked them to remember his daughter as she was, straight with the world.

PEDRO RIVERA: (Speaking foreign language)

BARCO: Jenni Rivera made her first album in 1992 and launched her television career with a reality show three years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE JENNI")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Yeah, she's a superstar, and we can never get enough. We all love Jenni. Oh, Jenni, I love Jenni.

BARCO: Cameras caught the soap opera of Jenni Rivera's life, her antics and those of her five children and grandchildren. Viewers watched her struggle to raise her kids, remarry and even go through a breast cancer scare.

RIVERA: I was trying still to be strong, but if anybody were to see me, they'd know that I was in pain. I just wasn't la diva de la banda, Jenni Rivera.

BARCO: She talked about the show with Los Angeles station KTLA.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

RIVERA: My fans love reality. They love for you - for me to be who I am. I'm very transparent. I try to be authentic and genuine with them.

BARCO: "I Love Jenni" was so popular, it even spawned a spinoff starring Rivera's oldest daughter Chiquis. And Jenni caught the attention of ABC TV, which was developing a comedy around her about a bicultural, bilingual middle-class single mother and business owner, just like Jenni Rivera herself. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA CHACALOSA")

RIVERA: (Singing foreign language)

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