Juan Gabriel: Mexican Singer-Songwriter and Composer

Mexican Singer-Songwriter and Composer

Juan Gabriel

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Juan Gabriel is one of the most recognizable names in Latin music, especially for his 500-some-odd music compositions throughout his illustrious career and his flamboyant style, which broke the mold for Latin artists in the 1990s and skyrocketed Gabriel to fame.

Also known as Juanga or "El Divo de Juárez" ("The Diva of Juarez"), Gabriel went on to sell over 100 million records worldwide and produced 19 studio albums from his first "Gracias Por Esperar" ("Thank You For Waiting") to 2016's "Vestido de Etiqueta por Eduardo Magallanes," which reached number one on the Billboard Latin charts.

On August 28, 2016, just a few months after the release of his final album, "Los Dúo, Volume II," Gabriel passed away in his home in Santa Monica, California due to a heart attack while still on tour. He was awarded two posthumous Latin Grammy Awards for the album. 

An Early Interest in Music

Juan Gabriel was born on January 7, 1950, in Paracuaro, Michoacan, Mexico and named Alberto Aguilera Valadez, the youngest of ten children. His father died before he was born, and his mother subsequently went to work as a housekeeper in Juarez, Chihuahua. At the age of five, Gabriel went to live in a boarding school — not the happiest of circumstances for a young child.

Gabriel found solace in music and wrote his first song when he was 13 years old. That was the same year that he left the school and began making his living as a carpenter. Soon after, he began singing in local Juarez clubs under the name of Adan Luna.

In 1971, Gabriel secured both a recording contract with RCA Records (now BMG) and a new name to coincide with his move to Mexico City. The new name "Juan Gabriel" was a tribute to both his father and a schoolmaster that had served as inspiration over the years.

Stardom and a Fallout with BMG

It was that same year that Gabriel wrote and recorded the first hit of his career, “No Tengo Dinero” ("I Have No Money) and started on the road to stardom. In the next 15 years, Juan Gabriel’s fame grew as he recorded 15 albums, sold some 20 million records and appeared in films such as "Nobleza Rancheraand "Lado de Puerto."

All that ended in 1985. In the midst of a bitter dispute with BMG about who owned the copyright to songs that Gabriel had composed, Juan Gabriel refused to record any new material for the ensuing eight years. An agreement was finally reached in 1994 and Gabriel released a new album of modern pop tunes named "Gracias Por Esperar" ("Thanks For Waiting").

Gabriel spent the following years recording albums at a prolific rate and found that his popularity had not waned in the previous years. In 1996, on the 25th anniversary of his recording career, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs titled "25 Anniversarios, Solos, Duetos, y Bersiones Especiales" which contained 25 CDs reflecting the magnitude of his life’s work.

Hall of Fame and Death

While Gabriel has always been a popular performer, it is his work as a composer that truly stands out. His compositions have been recorded by many other singers and include hits such as “Yo No Se Que Me Paso,” “El Palo,” “Mi Pueblo,” “Te Sigo Amando,” “Asi Tu” and many more. In fact, Gabriel is credited with having penned more than 500 songs, quite a feat for a man untrained in music.

In 1996, Gabriel was inducted into the "Billboard Latin Music Hall of Fame;" the previous year he was named ASCAP’s "Songwriter of the Year." He went on to release several albums between 2000 and his death in 2016, including "Abrazame Muy Fuerte" (2000), "Por Los Siglos" (2001), and "Inocente de Ti" (2003).

Juan Gabriel has never married. He has four children and has stated that they are not adopted and that the mother is his (unnamed) lifelong best friend. He was also known for performing at least one concert a month to benefit various children's homes and founded "Semjase," a home for children in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

He died at his home in Santa Monica, California in August of 2016 while still on tour, a musician to the very end.