José José has just passed away (28 September 2019) at the age of 71 due to his fight with pancreatic cancer. His career spanned 50 years and is a Latin pop icon with a plethora of songs that are culturally significant.
Born José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz on 17 February 1948 in Mexico City, José José hails from a musical family: his father was an operatic tenor and his mother was a classical pianist. His mother gave him his first piano when José José was 15. Even though he wanted to become a singer, his parents discouraged him because it was difficult being a success.
After trying out with Los PEG (a trio focused on bossa nova and jazz), José José recorded his first album titled José José in 1969 with little to no success due to not having enough promotion. After having some success with his second album La Nave Del Olvido, José José gained his musical immortality by representing Mexico in the II Festival de la Canción Latina (Second Latin Song Festival); he performed the Roberto Cantoral song “El Triste” and shocked the crowd over. He won at a controversial third place with the winner being Claudia de Brasil with her performance of the song “Canção de amor e paz.”
Throughout his career, José José has wowed the music world with many hits that are a part of the Mexican legacy of Latin Pop Music. However, his alcoholism and drug use brought him down in his later years; he also lost most of his voice and had to retire in 2012 from not resting his vocal cords and abusing cortisone before singing. He hit rock bottom in the early ‘90s after his second wife divorced him; he lived in a taxi waiting for death. But thanks to friends and faith, he came back with the album 40 y 20 in 1992. Until his death, José José fought his vices.
There are just way too much hit songs to talk about! Instead, let’s mention a few prominent hits that helped maintained José José’s 50-year legacy:
“El Triste” cemented José José’s career even though he lost. Performed on 15 March 1970 at the II Festival de la Canción Latina, “El Triste” is about the devastation of losing a beloved person (Roberto Cantoral wrote this song after the death of his mother).
“Amar y Querer” tells the differences between the verbs amar (to love) and querer (to want). Written by Manuel Alejandro and Ana Magdalena, José José’s vocals demonstrate how loving someone is a big sacrifice while wanting someone is a walk in the park to no definite destination.
“Lo Dudo” is José José’s way of saying “I doubt it” as the song explores an affair with the narrator telling his lover that he doubts that she’ll get the same love from her boyfriend compared to him. This song comes from José José’s most successful album Secretos released in 1983 and produced by Manuel Alejandro.
“Lagrimas” also came from the 1983 album Secretos. Here, José José sings about apologizing to his lover and trying to eliminate his lover’s tears.
“40 y 20” is a song about how a man in his forties in a relationship with a woman in her twenties. This song became a big hit and gave José José a resurgence in his career as he hit rock bottom after his second divorce before he got out and worked on the album 40 y 20.
José José’s career made sure that he became a Latin icon with songs that are still relevant and fresh today. Through his heavenly ups and his downs involving substance abuse, José José has left his mark in Latin music. There is a famous photo with José José, Camilo Sesto, Rocio Durcal and Juan Gabriel hanging out: now José José has joined them all after their deaths.