Reggaeton star Don Omar was the top winner of the Billboard Latin Music Awards, though the bigger star of the show might have been the one who wasn't there: The late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera.
Don Omar took home 10 prizes at the annual show Thursday honoring Spanish-language songs and performers. Rivera won six prizes, including artist of the year. The California-born superstar was killed in a plane accident last year in Mexico.
The show paid homage to Rivera with a tribute that included clips from live performances and her reality television show. Her brother Juan Rivera sang his sister's song "No Llega el Olvido" accompanied by a mariachi band.
"You are my diva," Rivera's father, Pedro Rivera, said in accepting the prizes. "May God bless you, my daughter."
Rivera sold more than 15 million copies of her 12 major-label albums during her career, which was cut short in December in a crash that killed her and six other people. She was born in Los Angeles and started her career by selling cassette tapes at flea markets. She went on to become adored by millions on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border drawn to her soulful singing and honest portrayal of her tumultuous personal life.
"We know she continues living in our hearts and through music," Rosa Saavedra, her mother, said.
The audience gave a standing ovation, many with tears in their eyes.
Mexican singing legend Jose Jose received the lifetime achievement award and Italian operatic singers Il Volo performed a moving rendition of his song "El Triste."
"Bless the Lord because he has converted me into a friend and accomplice of many couples, many hearts, and many marvelous souls who fall in love, and who suffer because of love," Jose Jose said in accepting the prize.
Other winners included bachata star Romeo Santos, who won three awards, including album of the year for "Formula: Vol. 1." He dedicated his prizes to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Santos sang a duet with Juan Luis Guerra that drew cries and screams from fans in the audience.
Salsa singer Marc Anthony, rock group Mana and Colombian pop artist Carlos Vives, who is making a comeback with his first album in eight years, also performed during the three-hour show, which was broadcast live on Telemundo.
Shakira, La Arrolladora Banda el Limon de Rene Camacho, and Natty Natasha took home three prizes each.
Latin music is starting to bounce back after a big dip in album sales during the recession. The rebound is thanks in large part to the growing Hispanic demographic in the U.S. and the rise of digital sales through online and cell phone services and subscriptions.
"Digital is over half our sales right now, and it continues to grow fast for Latin music," said Skander Goucha, senior vice president for Universal Music Latin Entertainment.
The awards show followed several days of panels and performances during the Billboard Latin Music Conference, a gathering of industry artists and professionals. This year's conference featured Uruguayan singer Jorge Drexler, who presented a mobile phone app that allows users to compose new songs using his lyrics and voice. Gloria Estefan also sat down for an extended interview in which she discussed her career and shared advice with aspiring artists.
"Stick to your guns," she said. "When one door closes, find another way to do what you want to do."
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