SONGWRITER LEAVES IMPRESSIVE MUSICAL LEGACY
Juan Gabriel has been the greatest idol in the Latin-American musical scene for the past four decades. He became an icon of the Mexican pop culture. His songs have been present for several generations in every socio economic stratus of the whole continent and the world. He wrote more than one thousand eight hundred songs. More than two hundred of his creations, sang by him or others, have topped the charts on the radio. He sold more than 100 million albums. And much remains to be heard of his creation.
A boy from humble beginnings
Alberto Aguilera Valadez, “Juan Gabriel”, was born in the State of Michoacan, west of Mexico City, in the town of Parácuaro. He was the youngest of a family of ten, and he lived with his parents Gabriel and Victoria his younger years, in the most absolute poverty. When his father passed away, his mother parted to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, near the border with the United States.
He was named Alberto, after the character of “Alberto Limonita”, from the soap opera “El Derecho de Nacer,” written by Cuban writer Félix B. Caignet, that at the time was broadcast on the radio station XEW. In their new life in Juarez, and given the domestic issues and the child’s uncontrollable temperament, his mother placed him in a childhood institution, where he lived a few years and ran away at the age of 13. He went on the streets and survived selling food.
He found his calling
“I was lucky to learn more than one trade, and I learned how to play guitar, guided by Juan Contreras, who was like a father to me. That is why I took a combination of his name and my father’s when I went on to have a professional career as a singer,” said Juan Gabriel during an interview. During that time, he began to make a living with his talent, singing in multiple bars and night clubs near the border with the U.S. He then wrote his first famous song: “La Muerte del Palomo”.
At 16 years of age, he debuted as a singer at a cabaret named “Noa Noa”, that would inspire him later to write a song by that same name. At age 21, he signed his first contract with RCA, and that became his launching pad, beginning with his great hit “No tengo dinero”. Here is when the story and the legend begin, with more than 100 million records sold all over the world, and about 1,500 copyrighted songs, in many different genres: rock, pop, ‘ranchera’, boleros and salsa.
The Midas Touch
His work as a musical arranger, producer and songwriter made him a King Midas. He brought success to all those who recorded his songs. He masterminded the entrance of Rocio Durcal in ranchera-style ballads. His creativity and Durcal’s voice defined a golden era for the Hispano-American music that lasted two decades. Durcal rose to the top of popularity with songs like “Quédate conmigo esta noche”, “Fue un placer conocerte”, “La Guirnalda”, “Costumbres”, “Me gustas mucho”, and the classic “Amor Eterno”, among others.
Another Spaniard, Isabel Pantoja, got on the spotlight with song “Así Fue.” Juan Gabriel also shared his talent with Mexican singers. Angélica María had great success with “Tú sigues siendo el mismo.” Lucha Villa made history with “No discutamos.” Daniela Romo topped the charts with “De mí enamórate.” Lucía Méndez succeeded with “Un alma en pena.” Meanwhile, Ana Gabriel, created the heart breaking version of “Luna”. Male voices like José José, Luis Miguel, Cristian Castro and Maná also recorded songs of Juan Gabriel.
His best time
Jesús López, president of Universal Music for Latin America, believes Juan Gabriel left when he was “at the peak of his career.” Lopez, who edits the music of the Mexican singer, explains that, weeks before he passed, Universal had published an album called “Vestido de Etiqueta.” This album features his classical songs, interpreted with orchestra. López explained how in 2015, the 66-year-old singer, released two albums with duets, which are some of the “best sellers in Latin America.”
The producer announced that there is much to come from Juan Gabriel. He recorded his voice for all the singles that will go in the third Duets album. One of those duets is with Luis Miguel. López confirmed that “El Divo de Juárez” left a lot of material ready to be published. “He had a sizable file of unpublished material, big enough to publish for a few years,” said López. As a producer, the artist finished Isabel Pantoja’s new album that is set to be released in November 2016.
Juan Gabriel had a very private family life. He never confirmed whether his five known children were his biological children or not. These five children, Alberto, Ivan, Jean, Jans and Joan, all with the middle name “Gabriel”, grew up at a home formed by “El Divo” and Laura Salas. He never married her, and always described her as a great friend. For many years he dodged questions about his sexual preferences; but ended the conversation one day when he responded to TV host Fernando del Rincón: “What is obvious, shouldn’t be asked.”
Few weeks after his death, another son appeared. 26-year-old Luis Alberto Aguilera presented his birth certificate, together with pictures, letters and emails that confirm his filial relationship with the singer. The young man also showed documents of home ownership for the house where he lives. Those documents show Juan Gabriel owned the house. But the biggest evidence of their relationship is the striking way they look alike. So far, it is unknown if the singer included this sixth child in his will, if there is one.
His life, his albums
Juan Gabriel recorded 64 albums in studio.
1971 Alma Joven
This first album was very accepted in Latin America, and Europe, selling 2 million copies. All ten songs were written by him. “No tengo dinero,” main single on the album, was later recorded in Japanese and Portuguese by the singer.
1974 Juan Gabriel con el Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán
This is his first album with the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. The first single that was promoted “Se me olvidó otra vez”, has become one of the most popular ‘ranchera’ songs of all times.
1984 Recuerdos II
This album contains the song “Querida”, that toped the popularity lists in Mexico and South America for over a year. This has been the most sold vinyl record in Mexico’s history. 16 million copies were sold throughout the continent.
This production sold 600 thousand copies and got three Platinum awards. It includes emblematic songs like “Hasta que te conocí”, “Te lo pido por favor”, “Yo no sé qué me pasó”, “Amor es Amor” y “Qué lástima”. All five songs made it to the Billboard Hot Latin Track.
1990 Juan Gabriel el Palacio de Bellas Artes
This album contains the polemic concert the singer gave at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. This was the first time a popular artist was presented at this venue, and accompanied by the National Symphonic Orchestra. This was the first DVD ever sold.
1994 Gracias por esperar
This was his first production after being 7 years away from the recording studios, due to a legal conflict with his record label. This album includes pop and modern ballads. The most popular single was “Pero qué necesidad.”
2000 Abrázame muy fuerte
This production became a best seller, and landed at the 2nd spot of the Top Latin Albums in the United States. The song with the same name, received an award for Best Latin Song in 2001. “Abrázame muy fuerte” has been interpreted by more than 20 singers.
2015 Dúos No. 1 y No. 2
These albums include new versions of classic Juan Gabriel songs. He sings together with artists like Vicente Fernández, Marco Antonio Solís, Isabel Pantoja, Juanes, Laura Pausini, Alejandra Guzmán, Natalia Lafourcade, Julion Álvarez, and many others. Both have topped the Billboard latin Pop Albums for over 50 weeks.
2016 Vestido de Etiqueta
This was Juan Gabriel’s last musical production. The singer joined his talent with that of director and arranger Eduardo Magallanes. It includes unpublished songs as well as classics from his repertoire, accompanied with orchestra and choirs. Two songs stand out: “Hasta que te conocí” and “La muerte del palomo.” After his death, this album has been on top of the Top Latin Albums.