"She was one of the people who led the movement, especially by bringing in a woman's voice," said Javier Gonzalez, 50, a clarinet player with the Banda Sinaloense Sangre Kaliente in Mexico City. "She held a very privileged place in the genre."
Rivera had seven top 10 hits on the Latin charts and in September 2011 became the first female regional Mexican artist to sell out Staples Center in Los Angeles. In all, she sold more than 20 million albums and bought her seven-bedroom, 11-bathroom Encino estate in 2009 for $3.3 million.
Her business empire, meanwhile, was growing rapidly. She had a weekly radio program, had recently launched clothing and cosmetics lines and appeared poised to become a bilingual television and film star.
She was the executive producer of a reality show that centered largely on her eldest daughter. The show ran on Telemundo's sister network, Mun2, and turned the Rivera family into something akin to the Kardashian clan. Three more reality shows followed, including "I Love Jenni," which offered a glimpse into Rivera's often chaotic life.
English-language broadcast television was next: ABC confirmed that it was developing a family comedy that would star Rivera.
"She was an amazingly smart businesswoman," said Lopez, the Universal Music executive. "She was a ball buster when it came to her deal negotiations and anything that would have to do with granting us rights. She was tough. She knew how to take care of her career. There was no manager. The manager was Jenni. She did it all, A to Z."
Rivera was also jumping into movies. She made her film debut in the family drama "Filly Brown," shown at this year's Sundance Film Festival. For acting in the film, Rivera accepted a small paycheck and gave it away — and spent three weeks holed up with an acting coach to prepare for the role.
Did she complain? "Never a peep," said Youssef Delara, the film's co-director.
"I was prepared for her to not be so gracious and open to learning from others," Delara said. "That was the sort of thing that was really surprising, to see someone that established — the humility she brought to it and the desire to be not just good but great at whatever she did."
Gold and Martens reported from Los Angeles and Fausset from Mexico City.
Times staff writers Meg James, Amy Kaufman, Yvonne Villarreal and Daniel Hernandez contributed to this report.