UNIVERSAL CITY - She had wanted a celebration with her brass band playing over her casket, rousing applause, a little tequila and beer, and some flitting butterflies.

Seven years after she recorded "Cuando Muere Una Dama" or "When a Lady Dies," singer Jenni Rivera nearly received the memorial she outlined in a song that became an unexpected will and testament. | PHOTOS | Thousands of fans remember Jenni | Archive of our live blog

Nearly 6,000 fans packed the Gibson Amphitheatre on Wednesday morning where Rivera's casket, ruby red with a few painted pink butterflies, sat at the foot of the stage surrounded by white roses.

Fans watch the memorial service for Jenni Rivera on a jumbotron in Citywalk on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 in Universal City, Calif. Rivera was killed in
Fans watch the memorial service for Jenni Rivera on a jumbotron in Citywalk on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 in Universal City, Calif. Rivera was killed in plane crash in Mexico. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)
Fans came from as far as possible to pay homage to the woman they admired for her music, her strength, her honesty, and her perfectly imperfect life filled with love and loss.

The crowd, mostly girls and women, sang along to her classics, applauded her successes, and wept with her parents, brothers and sister, and her children, who all dressed in white or red, and one by one tearfully recalled Rivera's strong-willed nature, her unswerving faith in God, and her gratefulness toward her fans.

"My mom once asked me if I had one word for her what would it be," said her daughter Janney "Chiquis" Marin. "In my opinion, my mom was unbreakable."

Marin, who starred in a reality show and whose arguments with Rivera were much publicized, said her mother fought for everything and was a warrior.

"I'm a product of the strongest woman I have ever known," Marin said, adding she feels her mother telling her, "Chiquis, you have to be strong."

Throughout the more than two-hour service there were video montages and a brass band that belted out the banda tunes that turned the Long Beach girl into an international musical superstar. The memorial was a mix of songs performed by famous Latin American singers, including Joan Sebastian and Ana Gabriel, and moving eulogies by members of her family - many of whom are top acts in the regional Mexican music industry.

Fans gather outside the Gibson Amphitheatre prior to the start of the memorial service for Jenni Rivera in Universal City, CA Wednesday, December 19, 2012.
Fans gather outside the Gibson Amphitheatre prior to the start of the memorial service for Jenni Rivera in Universal City, CA Wednesday, December 19, 2012. Rivera was killed in plane crash in Mexico.(Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer) (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

Rivera died Dec. 9 when her rented Learjet LJ25 crashed in northern Mexico about 15 minutes after departing Monterrey, Mexico. She was 43. Six other people aboard also died.

The memorial was billed by the Rivera family as a "Graduation to Heaven." A private funeral was to have followed.

If the mood was only slightly somber inside the amphitheatre, it was Rivera's youngest son, 11-year-old Johnny Angel Lopez, whose expression of both innocence and heartache brought the crowd to tears.

Even actor Edward James Olmos, who sat up front, could be seen on the large screens around the theater wiping his eyes.

"It's an honor to say that Jenni Rivera - the woman everyone is talking about - is my mom," Johnny, who wore a red bow tie and white suit, told the crowd.

Aracely Garcia holds a poster outside the Gibson Ampitheater prior to the start of the memorial service for Jenni Rivera in Universal City, Calif., on
Aracely Garcia holds a poster outside the Gibson Ampitheater prior to the start of the memorial service for Jenni Rivera in Universal City, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Rivera was killed in plane crash in Mexico. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

"I've never seen a mother work so hard to accomplish everything."

Rivera's brother, the Rev. Pedro Rivera Jr., who is pastor at the Primer Amor church in Whittier, said while the crash was an accident, in a sense it wasn't accidental.

"God lent her to us, and then he called her back," he said.

Rivera's son, Trinidad "Michael" Rivera, 21, called for a moment of silence in memory of the children and teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, because, he said, his mom would have been saddened by it. Her father, Pedro Rivera, sang a corrido written in honor of his daughter.

Her family asked fans to call radio stations to request that they play her hit, "La Gran Senora" at noon on Thursday.

Fans gather outside the Gibson Amphitheatre prior to the start of the memorial service for Jenni Rivera in Universal City, CA Wednesday, December 19, 2012.
Fans gather outside the Gibson Amphitheatre prior to the start of the memorial service for Jenni Rivera in Universal City, CA Wednesday, December 19, 2012. Rivera was killed in plane crash in Mexico. (Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer)

Rivera was known in Mexico and the United States as "La Diva de la Banda," a singer who had sold more than 15 million records of banda music and whose life, loves and losses were well known among her admirers.

Born and raised in Long Beach, Rivera was one of the biggest stars of the Mexican regional style known as grupero music, which is influenced by the norte o, cumbia and ranchero styles.

While her music drew many toward her, it was Rivera's story of humble beginnings growing up in Long Beach, as well as her Gloria Gaynor, "I Will Survive"-like attitude toward life, her three marriages, her five children, and her sense of giving back, that appealed to her fans. 

The singer, businesswoman and actress had her own reality shows, including "I Love Jenni" and "Jenni Rivera Presents: Chiquis and Raq-C" and her daughter's "Chiquis `n Control." She had recently signed a deal with ABC to develop a sitcom about a Latina single mom.

"It's like we all knew her," said fan Lindsey Siguenza, 20, of Los Angeles. "We won't miss the singer. We'll miss the person."

Elizabeth Gutierrez and her mom and daughter drove from San Jose to watch the memorial, calling Rivera an example of what it is to be a real woman.

"She gave so much to the community," Gutierrez said. "And she became a spokeswoman for battered women."

Griselda Perez, 19, of San Diego said seeing the coffin on stage Wednesday instead of the bubbly, energetic idol dancing and singing was heart wrenching.

"I just don't believe it," Perez said. "For her real fans, she's still alive. She'll always be alive."

Perez, whose mascara was smeared from her tears, said she's been to more than 10 Rivera concerts, even gaining backstage access to a few to interact with the diva.

Those in the audience who brought a single white rose to the memorial were allowed to place them on the casket. But placing a white rose near Rivera's coffin Wednesday was never how Perez imagined her last meeting with the Latina pop star.

"This is the worst feeling ever," she said between sobs.

As she and thousands other walked passed the casket, Rivera's "Como Muere Una Dama" played, her lyrics silencing the crowd as she sang:

"Drink tequila and beer, let the bands play with might," she sang. "Release butterflies, applaud me with your claps, because that's how you celebrate when a lady dies."

And at the end of the memorial - just as she requested - fine paper butterflies fluttered down over the crowd.

susan.abram@dailynews.com

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