Juan Gabriel, The 'Divo Of Juarez,' Dies At 66 : The Two-Way Juan Gabriel was a singular pop star who transcended borders and the trappings of gender.
NPR logo

Juan Gabriel, The 'Divo Of Juarez,' Dies At 66

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/491736237/491770388" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Juan Gabriel, The 'Divo Of Juarez,' Dies At 66

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Mexican singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel has died at the age of 66. The Latin-American superstar was in the middle of a 22-city arena tour of the United States when he suffered a massive heart attack in Santa Monica, Calif. Gabriel became the best-selling artist in Mexican history. NPR's Eyder Peralta tells us that many of his songs were essential to the Latin-American songbook.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Juan Gabriel's signature was his epic love songs. They started wistful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUERIDA")

PERALTA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: But like "Querida," Juan Gabriel's biggest hit, they turned into full-blown anthems for lonely lovers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUERIDA")

JUAN GABRIEL: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: Juan Gabriel wrote pop songs and rock songs. He sang with mariachis and full blown orchestras, producing dozens of hits. Other artists recorded his songs, and on occasion, he recorded theirs. He recently covered Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?"

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE RAIN?")

GABRIEL: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: Juan Manuel Caipo, who produced that album, said it showed what a chameleon the singer-songwriter was. Caipo says, in that sense, Juan Gabriel was a lot like Prince.

JUAN MANUEL CAIPO: Not just as a songwriter, but as a performer, as a vocalist. He was just someone that was - he just crossed those genre lines without having to really do much to what he did.

PERALTA: Juan Gabriel had a tough start. His mother was not able to take care of him. So he was sent to an orphanage in Juarez. He escaped, and he said he began to sing on streetcars because it made him feel free. In 1971, he landed his first hit, titled "I Don't Have Any Money."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO TENGO DINERO")

GABRIEL: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: By one count, Juan Gabriel put out some 2,000 songs. And he was known for marathon live shows. He was the first non-classical act to play the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. He sang "Eternal Love," a song he wrote for his late mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR ETERNO")

GABRIEL: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: He came on stage with mariachis backing him and wearing a jacket lined with sequins. His flamboyance earned him the nickname, the Divo of Juarez.

LEILA COBO: Juan Gabriel was very effeminate on stage. And yet, he was one of these artists that if you went to a Juan Gabriel concert, you would see these macho guys in tears, and you would see girls in tears.

PERALTA: That's Leila Cobo of Billboard magazine.

COBO: He was, you know, very sexually ambiguous. And yet, he was able to reach everybody. And I think it's a little bit the power of the songs, too. The songs were very easy to relate with. And this guy, he really kind of lived his songs.

PERALTA: He never married, but Juan Gabriel did have four children. Cobo says Juan Gabriel died just as his career had taken a turn. Romanticism, in Latin music, had given way to urban beats. But lately, Juan Gabriel's music was making a roaring comeback.

COBO: He was having the year of his life. In the last year, he had the top-selling Latin album of the year in the U.S. And also, he had the highest-grossing Latin tour of the year.

PERALTA: Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, tweeted that Juan Gabriel's music is a legacy to the entire world. Eyder Peralta, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUAN GABRIEL SONG)

GABRIEL: (Singing in Spanish).

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.