José José, ‘El príncipe de la canción,’ has left us at 71 on Saturday, Sep. 28.
Born José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz, José José was born in Mexico City on the 17th of February, 1948. Hailing from a family of career musicians in one of the liveliest cities in the world, the pursuit of music as a career was only natural.
His singing and guitar playing soon took precedence over his studies, causing strife between he and his father, a man who already had an erratic temper as it was. Conflict wouldn’t last long, as he opted to abandon his family when José José was only 15. From then on, the young boy began putting any income he had from playing shows in local cafes to helping the family.
At the urging of his mother, he left his band and began working as a solo artist. No matter how little success he had, she believed in him, certain a break would come.
And it did, in the form of RCA Victor finally giving him a contract. Following the death of his father due to alcoholism, he took the stage name José José and began recording his first tracks. Songs like”Cuidado” and “Una mañana” began to gain traction with the Mexican public, leading to being the musical guest on several Mexican television shows.
By the time La nave del olvido came out, he had a fanbase ready to receive his music with open arms. His level of fame took an even greater leap when he competed in the Festival de la Canción Latina. As it tends to go in singing competitions, the best man rarely wins. José José came in third, much to the vocal dismay of the crowd. But the loss was the start of a lifetime of wins.
Propelled by the hype from Festival de la Canción Latina, his single “El triste” rose to be a chart-topping success. The Spanish-speaking portion of the world had fallen in love with the voice of José Jose, and they wouldn’t be letting go any time soon.
Don José went on to have a prolific career spanning over 50 years. His music touched the lives of many in Latin American and beyond. At one point, even ‘Ol Blue Eyes himself was intrigued enough by his soaring voice to request a meeting.
A happy life consisting of a successful career, three marriages, and three children were still marred by a series of health problems. Like his father, he fell into alcoholism. Pneumonia affected him once early on in his career, and the damage would continue to hinder him, most notably in his twilight years. The damage from the illness affected his ability to sing, preventing him from gaining an income through live performances. This, combined with a family ridden with snakes eager to take whatever money they could from the aging singer, lead to near ruin.
Two years ago, José José was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He fought the illness with hope and grace, working towards a come-back until his dying day.
The Prince of Song died in his sleep on November 28th in Florida, his second home. His youngest daughter was with him when he passed, informing her two older siblings of the news as soon as she could compose herself.
The ripples of loss were felt by the Latinos as soon as word broke, with celebrities like Julio Iglesias, David Bisbal, Cheyanne, Gloria Estephan, Alejandro Fernandez, Julio Ceasar, and many MANY more expressing what the people were feeling on social media. Even Mexican President Andrés Manuel Alejandro Obrador expressed grief over the loss.
José José was a man with a voice only born every half-century. The awards, accolades, and adoration of his fans is still not enough to encapsulate all he meant. But the vigils and memorials popping up all over the world begin to shine a light on what he meant to the common man. Music is the backdrop to our lives. His voice guided millions through love and heartache, prom dances, wedding dances, and dances in quite kitchens.
As an insomniac, sleep doesn’t come when I want it. On desprate nights, music is one of the few things that help. This has been true since I was a small child. One of my ealiest memories is my mother singing to me, hoping it would put me to bed.
José José fades off into the next life the same way my stream of consiousness would, right before falling asleep. It is a bitter departure, sweetened only by the sound of his song. I can almost hear it in memory, blending with my mother’s voice;
“Que triste fue decirnos adiós
Cuando nos adorábamos más
Hasta la golondrina emigró
Presagiando el final.”