Latin Grammys honors Mexican icon Juan Gabriel

LAS VEGAS (AP) - November 5, 2009

The singer-songwriter known as the "divo of Juarez" was honored as the Latin Recording Academy's Person of the Year with a gala featuring singers from across the Americas and Spain on Wednesday, a day before the Latin Grammys awards show in Las Vegas.

Juan Gabriel is like the Elton John of Mexico, but he records across Mexico's many genres, from ranchera and ballads to disco and dance music.

The musicians, actors and celebrities on the red carpet didn't need much prompting to reminisce fondly about their favorite tunes and sing a few lines from "Querida," "Amor eterno," "Hasta que te conoci" (Til I Met You), "Siempre en mi mente" (Always on my Mind) and "Pero Que Necesidad" (What's the Point).

When the man of the hour finally appeared, photographers and cameramen pushed down the velvet rope and poured on to the red carpet and get a closer shot of the man of the hour, who wore a jacket made of black lace over burgundy silk with wide lapels, a huge jeweled tie pin and sunglasses.

"I love you all very much," he said in Spanish. "I dedicate this to Mexico."

Born into poverty as the last of ten children and raised in an orphanage in the rough border city of Juarez, Gabriel's first hit was "No Tengo Dinero," or "I Have No Money," in 1971.

Enrique Iglesias, who hosted the event with Venezuelan Maite Delgado, said Gabriel has an "enormous heart," which he shares in his songs and in his many benefit concerts and his charity work, especially the children's home he founded in Juarez in 1987.

Stars like double Latin Grammy nominee Luis Fonsi, Natalia Jimenez from Spain's La Quinta Estacion and Italian singer-songwriter Laura Pausini serenaded the man who fans affectionately call "JuanGa."

After Spanish pop singer David Bisbal sang "Yo No Naci Para Amar" (I Wasn't Born To Love), he choked up as he thanked the "maestro."

Gabriel gallantly took the microphone and said, "It wasn't a very pretty song until you sang it."

The audience swooned when Gabriel got down on one knee to thank Italian singer-songwriter Laura Pausini after her song.

Fonsi said he tried to emulate Gabriel's emotion and the "sob in the throat" when he sings.

"Viva mexico, viva the Virgin of Guadalupe and viva Juan Gabriel!" said Puerto Rican salsa singer India.

"What I give away, I never notice. What is given to me, I never forget," he said, during a passionate but wandering thank you speach.

When Gabriel performed "Se Me Olvido Otra Vez" (I've Forgotten Again) with a mariachi band, the audience sang along, relishing every word.

Then he paraded around the banquet hall, improvising new verses and climbing onto tables while the crowd gathered around, snapping photos and hoping he wouldn't step on a plate or slip and fall.

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