In Spain, singer Isabel Pantoja is considered one of the greatest vocal practitioners of the traditional copla in history. Though her Andalusian take on the folk style is highly orchestrated, her detailed attention to narrative, melody, drama, and rhythm, are singular. Since the mid-'80s, she has expanded her repertoire to include romantic pop ballads with no damage done to her stature. Pantoja's beloved musical reputation has been buoyed by a storied life filled with awards — more than 40 platinum-certified records — tragedy, and misadventure (including a two-year prison stint for being an accomplice to money laundering), as well as an emergency medical evacuation from a remote island during her period of competing in the Spanish edition of the television series Survivor. Fue por Tu Voz, her 1974 debut album, revealed an artist who arrived fully formed, moving through an intense series of modern and traditional coplas and tonadillas (Spanish theatrical song). 1988's Desde Andalucia (produced by Juan Gabriel) resulted in her first international chart-topping album, though more than 18 of her more than 30 recordings have ended up in the Top Ten in Spain. Her close friendship with the late singer, songwriter, and producer Gabriel from 1985 until his death in 2016 resulted in several hit duets and singles of her own, culminating in her participation on the number three tribute album Juan Gabriel... El Divo y Sus Divas and show-stopping performance of his songs at the 2017 Festival de Viña in Chile. While continuing to record and tour, she has been both a host and judge on several music competition reality television series.
Raised in a working-class family, the daughter of a male flamenco singer and a female dancer, Pantoja was strongly influenced by her parents to become an artist, debuting on-stage at the age of seven. As a teenager, Pantoja joined a dance group; she later moved to Madrid where she met Juan Solano and they decided to work together. The singer debuted in 1974 with the album Fue por Tu Voz. After she fell in love with bullfighter Francisco Rivera, the couple were married in April of 1983. A year later, she became a widow when Rivera was gored during a bullfight and died. In 1985, Pantoja recorded Marinero de Luces, dedicated to her late husband, presented live at Madrid's Lope de Vega Theatre. That album became the artist's breakthrough. She released 15 albums throughout the '90s and 2000s and her popularity soared. In 2007, she was arrested and jailed for being an accomplice to her ex-boyfriend's money laundering and other criminal activities as mayor of Marbella. She was sentenced to 24 months in jail in early 2013. She copped a plea and offered to pay four million Euros to avoid spending time in prison. Her plea was rejected by a jury in November 2014, and she was incarcerated for 15 months. Released in February 2016, she immediately returned to touring and recording. Pantoja's comeback album, Hasta Que Se Apague el Sol, was issued by Universal in November. She was devastated by the death of Juan Gabriel, her longtime friend and collaborator who had written songs for her since 1988's smash single "Así Fue." Along with Ana Gabriel, Rocío Dúrcal, Lucian Villa, Estela Núñez, and Gabriel himself, she sang on Juan Gabriel... El Divo y Sus Divas, the posthumous tribute offering that peaked at number three on the Latin Pop albums chart in 2016. She offered her own tribute at the 2017 Festival Festival de Viña in Chile, performing an entire concert of his songs. In 2019 she signed a contract with the Spanish television channel Telecino and appeared as a guest in Gran Hermano Dúo, a contestant in Supervivientes 2019, and a judge in Factor X and Idol Kids. In June, Pantoja served as a contestant on Survivors: Tierra de Nadie; she had to be evacuated from the island due to a medical emergency, but fully recovered. ~ Drago Bonacich