José José, Mexico's Prince Of Song, Dies At 71

Sep 30, 2019
Originally published on September 30, 2019 11:56 pm

José José, the revered Mexican singer known as the "Prince of Song," died Saturday, Sept. 28, in Miami. He was 71 years old.

The career of José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz spanned decades and his records sold in the millions. Born in 1948, José José grew up not far from the southern Mexico City park where fans gathered to mourn him throughout the weekend. Under a constant light rain and cloudy skies, the crowd broke into applause for their local hero, followed by a neighborhood band's military-style final salute. What fans at the park had gathered for was a chance to mourn the artist, belt out a ballad or two and relive José José's romantic lyrics together one more time.

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José José's lyrics bring 32-year-old César Manuel Jiménez Núñez right back to falling in love in middle school.

"That's the age when José José's song find you," says Nuñez. He says he would sing them to his young love back then and ended up marrying her. They've been together for 15 years now.

The 1980s were José José's most prolific. He released an album a year that decade, selling more than 95 million records over his decades-long career, according to his official biography. He received multiple Grammy nominations, never winning, but was named Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year in 2004. That same year, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

María de Jesus Rodríguez, 60, says she most admires José José for publicly sharing his battles with alcoholism and addiction during the 1990s. "Back then everyone hid those things. Not him," Rodriguez says. "He wasn't ashamed."

Fifteen-year-old Luis Alberto Serrano is too young to remember the details of José José's long career, but sure can sing his songs. Serrano and a friend sang in front of the Mexico City park for hours as many in the crowd wiped away tears, the clouds remained low and the rain drizzled on.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A man known as the prince of song has died. Jose Jose died over the weekend in Miami at 71. The Mexican singer had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a couple of years ago. His career spanned decades, and his records sold in the millions. If it happens that you have not heard of Jose Jose, his fans would like you to know more. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: A constant light rain and cloudy skies didn't deter residents from filling a city block in front of a park in southern Mexico City. Born in 1948, Jose Romulo Sosa Ortiz - better known as Jose Jose - grew up not far from here.

(APPLAUSE)

KAHN: The crowd broke into applause for their local hero, followed by a neighborhood band's military-style final salute.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAHN: But what everyone had gathered for was a chance to mourn and belt out a ballad or two, like these grown men sharing one of several microphones set up throughout the crowd....

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL AMAR Y EL QUERER")

JOSE JOSE: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: ...And relive together Jose Jose's romantic lyrics one more time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL AMAR Y EL QUERER")

JOSE JOSE: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Desire can fade quickly, however, love is endless, and we all may know desire, but few truly know love. Those words bring 32-year-old Cesar Manuel Jimenez Nunez (ph) right back to falling in love in middle school.

CESAR MANUEL JIMENEZ NUNEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "That's the age when Jose Jose's songs find you," he says. Jimenez, who was selling white scarves decorated with the singer's face, says he'd sing Jose Jose's songs to his young love back then. He says they've been married ever since.

The 1980s were Jose Jose's most prolific. He released album after album, selling more than 95 million over his decades-long career according to his official biography. He received multiple Grammy nominations, never winning but was named Latin Recording Academy person of the year in 2004. That same year, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Fans surrounded it this weekend with candles and flowers. Sixty-year-old Maria de Jesus Rodriguez (ph) says she most admires Jose Jose for publicly sharing his battles with alcoholism and addiction during the 1990s.

MARIA DE JESUS RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Back then, everyone hid those things - not him," she says. "He wasn't ashamed." Fifteen-year-old Luis Alberto Serrano (ph) is too young to remember the details of Jose Jose's long career but sure can sing his songs.

LUIS ALBERTO SERRANO: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: He and a friend sang in front of the park for hours. Many in the crowd wiped away tears, and the clouds remained low and the rain drizzled on. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSE JOSE SONG, "EL TRISTE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.