Prince (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016)
As a Millennial, I missed out on the majority of Prince’s ascension to stardom in the late 1970s and mid-80s. It wasn’t until Musicology in 2004 and his mind-boggling, rain-filled Super Bowl halftime show in 2007, that I came around to Prince’s raw talent (how did he not face-plant on that water-soaked stage?!) and somehow even rawer sexual magnetism (seeing co-workers flock TVs to take in the Purple One's majesty during his impromptu visit to The View was especially enlightening).
When he passed on April 21 of this God forsaken year, mourning fans left purple flowers in front of his Paisley Park residence and the First Avenue nightclub he immortalized in the film Purple Rain; purple lights lit up bridges, skyscrapers; clubs and radio stations played back-to-back hits spanning his 40-year career; The New Yorker referenced Purple Rain with an understated tearjerker of a cover. SA mourned collectively at Paper Tiger, Brass Monkey, Alamo Drafthouse and a Stars and Garters tribute show, because obviously.
Prince knew how to laugh off a Chappelle Show skit, how to electrify audiences, how to throw the best shade and how to get listeners to feel, emote and get through this thing called “life,” in thigh-highs, assless chaps, lace, and the tightest of Lycra, no less. He was ethereal and ephemeral, and there will be no one like him for a very, very long time. —Jessica Elizarraras
Emilio Navaira (August 23, 1962 – May 16, 2016)
I stopped short of writing “Emilio Navaira III.” Don’t need it. Emilio is Emilio, and I know there is some dude out there in the music world who shares the same name, but he won’t ever get close to the significance this Emilio had in the genre he belonged to. Scratch that — genres.
In the Tejano world, Navaira became a solo star after shining for years with David Lee Garza & Los Musicales, then became second only to Selena in the ’90s, the heyday of Tejano. When he crossed over to country, he entered the Nashville charts and left an indelible mark (1995’s Life is Good is a gem), but eventually his thirst and rock ’n’ roll spirit (he loved the Beatles, ZZ Top, Nirvana, Eagles, etc.) took the best of him, ending in a series of alcohol related brushes with the law.
But only Emilio could have miraculously recovered after hitting some highway barrels with his tour bus, going through the windshield and landing head first on the pavement. SA showed its love for him when, at age 53, he died at home, unexpectedly in May (heart attack, after having a bike ride in the nearby park). But it is important to remember that it was Mexico (specifically, Monterrey) where people couldn’t have enough of him and where he performed for the last time five days before his passing.
“I play a lot in Mexico because Mexico loves me,” he told the Current in 2012. “But on this side, Tejano is kind of down, slow. That’s scary.”
His legacy was cemented long before his death, but his talented sons (Diego and Emilio IV, from The Last Bandoleros) will strongly continue the Navaira groove for years to come. Emilio was a natural star born with an incredible voice (when singing in English, he always reminded me of a young Elton John), but he was also so San Antonio — humble and real. That’s why we loved him. — Enrique Lopetegui
Juan Gabriel (January 7, 1950 – August 28, 2016)
Only Juan Gabriel could have taken seven years off without recording an album and remain Mexico’s top pop figure.
Before and after dealing with legal issues with his label, he wrote hundreds of classics deeply instilled in the country’s DNA, but he also fed countless artists who earned a living simply by covering his hymns. Yes, he was cheesy and corny and his poetry will never be seriously considered by Stockholm’s Nobel Committee. But his sense of melody was superb, while his artistic open-mindedness allowed him to jump from romantic pop to rancheras and even rock without ever sounding opportunistic. His wit left him off the hook whenever a journalist tried to corner him about his sexuality. Because, on top of it all, Juan Gabriel was a gay man in what’s perhaps the world’s most machista country.
“I have four sons. That’s No. 1,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. “Second, in show business, if you’re male and cute and gracious, people assume you’re blah blah blah. But people don’t understand that art itself is female — it is full of graciousness, cadence, color, rhythm. It’s full of love and grace. No. 3: Nowadays, the important thing is to be careful. That’s what people have to worry about, not whether one is or isn’t. Watch your ‘bird’ and watch your butt. Especially in the U.S., where there is, or there is supposed to be, so much respect for all peoples.”
Years later, Univision tried to ask the same question, and “Juanga” had a shorter but equally disarming comeback: Lo que se ve no se pregunta [“What you see you don’t ask about.”] Better still: to understand Juanga, all you have to do is listen. — EL