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Jenni Rivera: Overflow crowd says goodbye at singer's memorial

December 20, 2012 |  6:34 am

The more than two-hour farewell to singer Jenni Rivera at a packed Gibson Amphitheatre could have been mistaken for a concert, if not for the crowd's tears and the ruby-red casket on stage.

The singer, who was killed in a plane crash this month, was honored Wednesday with what her family called a "celestial graduation," a musical memorial that filled the amphitheatre with 6,100 people and drew hundreds more outside.

Family members — clad head-to-toe in white — praised Rivera as a "perfectly imperfect" mother and a guerrera, Spanish for "female warrior." Her father, Pedro Rivera, a noted singer of the Mexican ballads known as corridos, said goodbye by performing a song he wrote about her, "La Diva de la Banda."

PHOTOS: Fans turn out en masses for Jenni Rivera memorial

Rivera's 11-year-old son, Johnny Lopez, addressed the sea of mourners in a white suit and red bow tie. His father died a few years ago.

"Mama, I've been crying so much these last few days. I miss you so much," he said, his voice breaking. "I hope you're taking care of my dad and I hope he's taking care of you too."

He added: "I want to thank everyone for loving my mom."

Rivera, a Long Beach native, first gained fame via her banda music, a Mexican regional style heavy on machismo and brass instruments. A rare woman in the genre, Rivera often sang—in Spanish and English—about her chaotic personal life: three husbands, five children and struggles with her weight and domestic violence.

Rivera sold more than 20 million albums and, in recent years, had started to expand her business empire. She had a weekly radio program, clothing and cosmetics lines and a hand in several reality shows, including "I Love Jenni."

She and six others were killed Dec. 9 when a private jet that had departed Monterrey, Mexico, nose-dived 28,000 feet in 30 seconds and smashed into mountainous terrain. Rivera was 43.

"My sister, Jenni, died in a plane accident, but it was not an accident," Pedro Rivera Jr., a pastor and Rivera's brother, told the crowd in Spanish. "God has a purpose for all of us and God let us borrow her for 43 years and enjoy her."

It was clear how deeply Rivera had touched her legion of fans.

At the memorial, several well-known Latino singers performed, including Ana Gabriel, Olga Tanon and Joan Sebastian.

Outside, her fans arrived early. They wore Jenni Rivera T-shirts and pins and waved handmade posters. One woman said Rivera was now performing "in a concert with God."

Denise Montalvo, 15, had left San Diego at 1 a.m. with her mother, aunt and two family friends. She admired Rivera for striving to obtain a better life, just like Denise's family. The teenager said Rivera wanted her funeral to be a celebration, reflecting her song "Cuando Muere una Dama" — "When a Lady Dies."

"We're trying not to be sad," she said.

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— Ruben Vives and Adolfo Flores

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