Juan Gabriel

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About Juan Gabriel

Abandoned at the age of 4, Juan Gabriel used his expressive voice and dramatic flair to find his true home in the musical heart of Mexico. Born Alberto Aguilera Valadez in 1950 in Michoacan, his first memory in life was being handed over to a Juarez orphanage after his dad died in a fire. At 16 he sang in local bars. By 21, he had a major recording contract in Mexico City, and soon a new name. Eventually, as fans began chanting “Juan Gabriel” in arenas, they boiled it down to a sound Spanish speakers all over the world came to know: Juanga. Gabriel made his mission clear in interviews—American songs were crowding the global airwaves; his job as a singer and songwriter was to celebrate and disseminate the music of his people, from heart-pounding mariachi like 1977’s Juan Gabriel con el Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán to the oompah beats of banda music on 1998’s Juan Gabriel Con Banda... El Recodo. He dominated mostly by setting the Mexican ballad tradition on fire, typically building from a conversational coo to a huge wall of wail. Songs like “Amor Eterno” and “Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez” became essential to quinceañeras, weddings, and funerals, but his personality was just as big. Onstage, Gabriel wore robes, neckerchiefs, and peacock-plumed fabrics, while his steep pompadour somehow maintained through his epic five-hour shows. In a country known for machismo, he demonstrated new ways to define masculinity and became an LGBTQ icon in the process. By the time he died in 2016, Juanga was loved for who he was: a man who turned his pride for Mexico into something that Mexico could in turn be proud of.

Paracuaro, Michoacán, Mexico
January 7, 1950
Pop Latino
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