The news that Mexican-American pop sensation Jenni Rivera died in a plane crash last weekend was matched, in many corners of America, with the news that she had ever existed. Rivera, a California native, had sold an impressive 15 million records, largely in Mexico and in the American West and Southwest. But because she appealed to a particular population — she sang largely in Spanish, in a tradition known as “la banda” — she operated outside the radar of the mainstream media, with its narrow definitions of American pop music.
To some degree, the 43-year-old Rivera’s odd mix of fame and obscurity is a sign of enduring divisions in our nation. It’s also a reflection of changes in the music industry, once more of a unifying pop force in American culture, which has gravitated increasingly toward exploiting niches.
But Rivera, whose appeal stemmed from her big voice and her relatably messy life, had so much talent and personality that the broader entertainment world was getting wind of her potential. Recently, she starred in an English-language reality show, “I Love Jenni,” which aired on the bilingual channel mun2 and on the Style network. She was also developing a sitcom for ABC. One of the tragedies of her death is that English-speaking audiences, who would likely have gotten to know her better, never will have that chance.