More than 6,000 people crowded into the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City on Wednesday to pay tribute to banda singer Jenni Rivera, a Long Beach native whose indomitable spirit made her a bi-national hero to legions of young women.
Rivera, who gave birth to the first of her five children when she was 15 and dropped out of school, triumphed over bad marriages and other adversities to carve out a name for herself as a banda singer, eventually becoming a star before dying in Dec. 9 plane crash in Mexico at age 43 while jetting from one concert to another.
The two-and-a-half hour ceremony, billed as a "Celestial Graduation," was led by Rivera's brother, the Rev. Pedro Rivera Jr.
The memorial opened with a video tribute to Rivera that began by flashing the words, "Mujer (Woman). Caracter (Character). Fuerza (Force)."
The film played as Rivera's family came on stage dressed in white. As they took their seats, the crowd shouted "Jen-ni. Jen-ni."
Family members serving as pallbearers placed Rivera's ruby-red casket at the fore of the stage next to a spotlighted microphone stand and a mass of white roses and other flowers.
The ceremony featured speeches from family members, including her parents and each of her five children, punctuated by musical tributes.
Rivera's oldest daughter, Janney "Chiquis" Marin Rivera, said, "Momma, I know you're here with me. I can feel you more than ever. Please know that you continue to be my rock, the queen of my heart and the ocean in which my ship floats upon. . . .
"I promise to do my best to take care of your babies, our babies. Just please guide me. All I want to do is make you proud, because you have made us so proud," Chiquis Rivera said.
Johnny Lopez Rivera, Rivera's youngest son, told the audience he had only had his mom for 11 years.
"But through those short 11 years, she tried to set the best example she could," Lopez said. "It's a real honor to say that Jenni Rivera, the person that everyone is talking about, is my mom, that she still lives in me."
The memorial closed with a drop of butterfly-shaped confetti and music from a "banda" brass band as family members placed white roses on Rivera's coffin. Friends and fans filed past the coffin, offering white roses to Rivera's family.
Rivera's rented Learjet LJ25 crashed about 15 minutes after departing Monterrey, killing her the six others aboard. The 1969-model jet was in a nose
dive and going more than 600 mph when it hit the ground, according to aviation
investigators, who have yet to determine the cause of the crash.
The family has asked that, instead of flowers, fans make donations to the Jenni Rivera Love Foundation, along with a single white rose.
Rivera's burial will be private.
Rivera dominated the banda style of regional Mexican music popular in California and northwestern Mexico. She was one of the biggest stars on Mexico
television and was popular on "regional Mexican" stations in California.
Rivera lived a tumultuous life, which was the basis for much of her music. She had been married and divorced three times, the last time from former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Esteban Loaiza.
The singer, who sold more than 15 million records, sang songs of heartbreak and abuse. She had her own reality show, and ABC was developing a comedy pilot for her, according to the entertainment website Deadline.com.
A limited number of tickets to the memorial service were offered online. Purchasers had to pay $1 up front, but the cost is expected to be refunded
within 72 hours.