Songwriter, producer, singer
As a superstar and a legend of by gone traditions, a troubadour and cultural icon, Juan Gabriel stirred the roots of the Mexican people by means of his singing, songwriting, and musical productions. His persona escalated throughout the later decades of the twentieth century and by 2000 Gabriel seemed larger than life. Throughout his rise to stardom as a Mexican folk hero, he endeared himself internationally as well, not only to audiences but also to his musical colleagues. Gabriel remained equally at ease in an old hat and jeans as in a tuxedo and unwittingly assumed a unique stature among his countrymen as a symbol of their culture and spirit. His songs and compositions recorded a range of passion—from ballads rife with Mexican folk imagery, to spirited dance tempos and the dramatic ranchera bria song styles—injected with extravagant bursts of Latin flavor and bravado.
Juan Gabriel was born Alberto Aguilera Valadez on January 7, 1950 in the town of Paracuaro, in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, on the Pacific coast. He was the youngest of ten siblings who lost their father shortly before Gabriel’s birth. Gabriel as a result was raised by his mother in Juarez, Chihuahua, where she earned a living as a housekeeper. Because of the difficult family situation, Gabriel from age five through 13 lived at a boarding school, which to him was little more than an orphanage, and he turned to his music to elevate his spirits and to temper his loneliness. When he left the institution as a teenager, Gabriel made his living for a time selling handmade furniture and crafts, a skill that he learned at the school.
Despite the difficult emotional lessons of his youth, Gabriel always enjoyed music and singing. His earliest conscious recollections revolved around singing, even when he was too young to talk. He increasingly embraced music as an escape from the woes of life, and wrote his first song at age 13, unaware that he was destined for international stardom. In retrospect, he likened his musical compositions to an effective method of logging the past, a lyrical diary of the experience of life. As a young performer, he initially took the stage name of Adán (Adam) Luna for a performance on local television in Juarez in 1965, and he was still in his teens when he performed his live debut at an establishment called the Noa Noa in 1966. His performances in the nightclubs around Juarez continued for several years, including frequent performances at club Malibú in Juarez. His experiences served later as the inspiration for his song, “El Noa Noa,” wherein he immortalized those early performance venues of his teen years. Ultimately Gabriel moved to the Mexican national capitol, having secured a recording contract with what later became his perennial label, BMG (RCA Records at that time). He changed his name to Juan Gabriel in 1971, to coincide with the move to Mexico City, choosing the name of Juan in honor of a schoolmaster for whom he held great admiration and adopting the stage surname of
Born Alberto Aguilera Valadez on January 7, 1950, in Paracuaro, Michoacán, Mexico; son of Gabriel Aguilera.
Did live stage performances, tours, production, wrote more than 500 compositions, 1963—; signed with RCA (later BMG) Records, 1971.
Awards: Songwriter of the Year, ASCAP, 1995; Billboard Latin Music-Hail of Fame, 1996; Best Regional Artist, Ritmo El Premio de la Gente (People’s Choice) Latin Music Awards, 1999; Lifetime Achievement Award, “People’s Choice” Latin Music Awards, 1999.
Addresses: Management —Ralph Hauser Management, e-mail:[email protected]
Gabriel in honor of his own deceased father, Gabriel Aguilera.
In 1971, his song “No Tengo Dinero” (“I Have No Money”) became the first hit of a career that erupted into full-blown stardom by the mid 1980s. In less than 15 years Gabriel recorded approximately two dozen albums, and his records by 1985 had sold an estimated 20 million copies, according to All Music Guide. On October 4, 1986, Billboard published the Hot Latin Tracks chart for the first time, and it was Gabriel’s single release, “Yo No Se Que Me Paso,” that topped the debut edition of the new chart. His nearly continual presence on the Tracks chart since that time has contributed substantial credibility to the Gabriel legend.
Gabriel’s fame is founded not only on the strength of his vocal talent, but also on his bent for composing eloquent songs and melodies. The Billboard Music Publishing Spotlight cited Gabriel three times for his original songs during the 1990s. Likewise, two consecutive Billboard Year in Music issues listed Gabriel as the number-two composer of Hot Latin Tracks, citing his hit recordings of “Te Sigo Amando,” and “Asi Tu,” each of which attained the number-one position on the Tracks chart in 1997 and 1998 respectively. “Te Sigo Amando” in fact appeared on the chart for an unprecedented 34 weeks. That song and another popular piece by Gabriel, called “El Destino,” contributed largely to the recognition of BMG Songs as publisher of the year at the Billboard Latin 50 Awards at the Miami Beach Club Tropigala in the spring of 1998. Indeed, Gabriel’s popular “Hasta Que Te Conoci” alone was recorded more than two dozen times, including five separate releases by headline singers that placed on the chart, among them Marc Anthony, Ana Gabriel, and Gabriel himself. In total, Gabriel’s songs have been sung by a wide assortment of prominent recording artists, such as Rocío Dúrcal and Raul di Blasio.
Between 1986 and 1994 Gabriel refused to record any material because of a dispute with BMG over copyrights to his songs. He continued his career in live stage performances, however, setting attendance records throughout Latin America with his vibrant trademark concerts that lasted characteristically for a grueling three hours. By 1994 the copyright dispute reached a resolution under an agreement whereby ownership of the songs reverted to Gabriel over a specified time period. His first recorded release following the agreement in 1994 was an album comprised largely of ballads and with a decidedly modern twist toward the venue of pop music. The release, called Gracias Por Esperar (Thanks for Waiting), included crossover tunes branching into reggae, rhythm and blues, gospel, and American country music. Gracias Por Esperar also featured the Latin Top 50 hit single, “Pero Que Necesidad,” which reached number one on that chart and was released as a video as well. Among his more popular recordings during those years was a collaborative effort with Dúrcal on Jantos Otra Vez in 1997. The album, one of many partnerships between Gabriel and Dúrcal, included a duet, called “El Destino,” which was released as a best-selling single track. Additionally, Gabriel’s “El Palo,” from his El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue album and one of his three Hot Latin Tracks releases of 1996, entered the chart at number one. Also included on that album was the popular, “Mi Bendita Tierra,” and the album featured other hit singles including “Juan Y Maria,” and Canción ’87.” Even as Gabriel resumed his recording career in the mid 1990s, his live concerts continued to gross record-setting revenues into the latter part of the decade. He performed also at the Festival Acapulco in a memorable appearance on May 13, 1997.
In 2000, according to the 1994 agreement between Gabriel and BMG, the performer assumed complete copyright and management responsibilities of more than 500 songs, under the control of his own publishing firm. He continued his songwriting at an expansive home in Malibu, California, and performed regularly in a variety of formats with bands, mariachis, and orchestras. Gabriel, who is surprisingly illiterate in musical notation, worked by memory until the advent of the convenient portable tape recorder. Like many writers, he developed a preference for working in the quiet of the late evening hours. He willingly shares his songs with other singers in the interest of keeping the music industry vibrant and alive.
In 1996, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs to commemorate Gabriel’s twenty-fifth anniversary in the recording industry. The package, comprised appropriately of 25 compact discs, was called 25 Anniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Bersiones Especiales. In addition to his native Spanish, Gabriel has also recorded in Portuguese, and he has earned career recognition as a film star and record producer. His 1996 production, Las Tres Senoras, featured three foremost divas of Mexican music, Amalia Mendoza, Lucha Villa, and the late Lola Beltran. The EMI album, which was completed shortly before Beltran’s death, included featured vocals by Gabriel and ranchero artist Vicente Fernandez. In other collaborations, Gabriel’s remake with Paul Anka of the 1950s Anka hit “Mi Pueblo (My Home Town),” debuted at number 18 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks. His productions include Isabel Pantoja’s biggest selling album, Desde Andalucía, and he produced albums for Dúrcal also. Gabriel’s film credits include Nobleza Ranchera, Del Otro Lado Del Puerte, and Es Mi Vida (It’s My Life). In Billboard in 1999, John Lammert hailed Gabriel as a “… charismatic performer with muscular pipes … [and] // hombre más trabador [the hardest working guy]…”
A number of popular artists and groups such as Lorenzo Antonio, vocal trio Pandora, La Banda El Recodo, and Gabriel’s own backup singer, Stefani Spruill, have honored Gabriel with tribute albums. He has been honored exhaustively with industry awards, including the Golden Nipper for sales in excess of two million units in 1976. In 1999, when Billboard published a special tribute issue in Gabriel’s honor, his fans, associates, admirers, and professional colleagues filled 23 pages with adulatory expressions and congratulations for the performer whose persona was by then legendary among Mexicans and Americans alike. Earlier in that same year Gabriel received the People’s Choice Latin Music Award (Ritmo) for best regional artist for his Con La Banda El Recodo plus the La Opinion Tributo Nacional (Lifetime Achievement Award) from that same organization. The following year, in February of 2000, Billboard announced the pending unveiling of a statue of Gabriel, erected at Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, a favorite performance area for mariachi bands. The statue, which took approximately one year to complete, was created by sculptor Oscar Ponzanelli. Gabriel did not sit or pose for the piece, nor would he view the work prior to its unveiling, because of moral compunction. In 1999 he performed across the United States in a tour sponsored by Sears Corporation. Additionally, October of 1999 saw the release of an album by Gabriel with José José; the album featured compositions by Gabriel.
In 2000, Gabriel had projects in the works which included the opening of a restaurant, Noa Noa De Juan Gabriel, in Los Angeles, California, to be decorated with his own memorabilia. In the wake of his overwhelming success, Juan Gabriel remembered his mother and the sacrifices that she made in raising him when he acquired ownership of the mansion where she had worked to support him. Gabriel, who never married, includes among his perennial programs approximately ten to 12 performances per year as benefit concerts for his favorite children’s homes. Additionally, after performances, he habitually poses for pictures with his fans and forwards the proceeds from the photo-ops to support Mexican orphans.
Unlike United States copyrights and trade name ownership, Gabriel, according to Mexican culture, finds his face reproduced on clothing items, food labels, and elsewhere, yet finds no fault. As a major music star, he has no need to control his image and avows gratification that others can benefit from his fame and share in the wealth of his popularity without his involvement.
“No Tengo Dinero,” 1971.
“Yo No Se Que Me Paso,” 1986.
“Pero Que Necesidad,” 1994.
“El Palo,” 1995.
“Mi Pueblo” (with Paul Anka), 1996.
“Te Sigo Amando,” 1997.
“Asi Tu,” 1998.
“El Destino,” 1997.
Baladas, RCA, 1978.
Siempre Estoy Pensando en Ti, RCA, 1978.
Recuerdos (Remember), Ariola, 1980.
Cosas de Enamorados, RCA, 1982.
Lo Mejor de Juan Gabriel con Mariachi, RCA, 1983.
Todo, RCA, 1983.
Recuerdos 2, RCA, 1984.
Pensamientos, RCA, 1986.
Frente a Frente, Vol. 1, RCA, 1987.
Frente a Frente, Vol. 2, RCA, 1987.
Debo Hacerlo, RCA, 1988.
Juan Gabriel con el Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, RCA, 1990.
Juan Gabriel en el Palacio de Bellas Artes, RCA, 1990.
Con Tu Amor, Ariola, 1992.
Te Llegara Mi Olvido, RCA, 1992.
Mis Ojos Tristes, Ariola, 1992.
Inspiración, Fonovisa, 1992.
En el Palacio de Bellas Artes, BMG, 1992.
Gracias Por Esperar, BMG Latin, 1994.
Musipistas, Discos DCO, 1995.
El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, Ariola, 1995
El Alma Joven, Vol. 3, RCA, 1996.
Juan Gabriel Con El Mariachi De America De Jesus Rodriguez de Hijar, RCA, 1996.
Juan Gabriel Con Mariachi, Vol. 2, RCA, 1996.
Del Otro Lado, RCA, 1996.
Siempre En Mi Mente, RCA, 1996.
Mejor de Los 3 Grandes, RCA, 1996.
Me Gusta Bailar Contigo, BMG, 1996.
Espectacular, RCA, 1996.
Gabriel, Juan, RCA, 1996.
El Alma Joven, RCA, 1996.
A Mi Guitarra, BMG, 1996.
Juntos Otra Vaz, RCA, 1997.
Lo Mejor de Gabriel Y Manzanero, Polygram, 1997.
Juan Gabriel, BMG Latin, 1997.
Homenaje a Juan Gabriel, Simitar Latino, 1997.
Celebracion De los 25 Años de Juan Gabriel en Bellas Artes, RCA, 1998.
Por Mi Orgullo, RCA, 1998.
Con la Banda…EI Recodo, RCA, 1998.
Querida, RCA, 2000.
Juan Gabriel, RCA, 2000.
Billboard, June 18, 1994, p. 10; September 23, 1995, p. 14; May 4, 1996, p. 12; October 19, 1996, p. 61; April 11, 1998; October 2, 1999, pp. 53-80; October 30, 1999, p. 74.
Village Voice, October 15, 1996, p. 54.
“Juan Gabriel,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/x.dll?p=amg&sql=B38960 (November 6, 2000).
Born: Alberto Aguilera Valadez; Parácuaro, Michoacán, Mexico, 7 January 1950
Best-selling album since 1990: Juntos Otra Vez (1997)
Hit songs since 1990: "Pero Que Necesidad," "Canción 187," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte"
The Mexican chapter of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) lists Juan Gabriel as its number one royalties generator. His sentimental, direct lyrics and his marriage of Mexican folk rhythms to pop melodies have made his music legendary and ubiquitous throughout Latin America. His Mexican folkloric songs like "Querida," "Amor Eterno," and "Hasta Que Te Conocí" have become part of the ranchera canon, considered standards by mariachis everywhere.
His parents, Gabriel Aguilera Rodriguez and Victoria Valadez Rojas, were peasants and struggled to support Alberto's nine older siblings. As a young teenager, he lived in the Mexican border city of Juarez, selling tortillas downtown with his sister.
Moving to Mexico City in the late 1960s, he tried to secure a recording contract, but success escaped him until 1971, when Queta "La Prieta Linda" Jimenez introduced him to officials at RCA and recorded his song "Noche a Noche." In late 1971 he recorded his first pop ballad hit "No Tengo Dinero."
Gabriel began writing songs for the Spanish pop/ranchera singer Rocio Durcal, a collaboration that lasted for years. By the early 1980s Gabriel had gained major momentum, expanding his music to include mariachi and disco songs for the label Ariola Discos and scoring ever-bigger hits, including "Costumbres" and "Querida." But it was not all good news. Juan Gabriel was seriously shaken when his mother Victoria died in 1988. He wrote the ode "Amor Eterno" as a tribute to her. The song became another monster hit and was covered by more than a dozen top artists, including Durcal, Ana Gabriel (no relation), and Vicente Fernández.
A dispute with his record company prevented him from releasing any studio albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the interim, however, he reached the pinnacle of his career with the double CD En Concierto en El Palacio de Bellas Arte s (1990). Hailed critically, the concerts feature backing by the seventy-piece Mexican Symphonic Orchestra, a top-notch mariachi. Juan Gabriel is in impeccable shape. His inspired interpretation of "Querida" elevates the song into a form of worship. On "Amor Eterno," Gabriel plumbs new emotional depths in a song about a dear one gone but not forgotten.
In 1994 Gabriel released his comeback studio album, the synth-driven Gracias por Esperar, featuring an uncharacteristic but uplifting first single, the gospel-tinged "Pero Que Necesidad." Gabriel produced an album in 1997 with Durcal, appropriately titled Juntos Otra Vez (Together Again). The title track, a duet, got solid airplay.
While a bevy of regional Mexican and Latin pop artists have covered his songs or recorded tribute albums, Gabriel has remained creatively vibrant—witness the orchestral title song to his 2001 album, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, which hit number one on Billboard 's Hot Latin Tracks. He also performed a duet with the talented young ranchera-pop singer Nydia Rojas on her 2001 CD Nydia, which consists entirely of Gabriel songs.
Although his exuberant, sometimes mannered persona makes him an unlikely star in a nation that exalts its singing charros (cowboys), Juan Gabriel's direct, poetic lyrics and ingratiating melodies have launched a million serenades in his romantic country.
Siempre Estoy Pensando en Tí (RCA, 1978); Lo Mejor de Juan Gabriel con Mariachi (RCA, 1983); Debo Hacerlo (RCA, 1988); Gracias Por Esperar (BMG, 1994); El México Que Se Nos Fue (BMG, 1995); Juntos Otra Vez (BMG, 1997); Todo Está Bien (BMG, 1999); Abrázame Muy Fuerte (BMG, 2000).