March 11: Columbian singer Soraya was born on this date in 1969...

... she died on May 10, 2006 from breast cancer.

Soraya Raquel Lamilla Cuevas was born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, a year after her family moved to the U.S. from their native Colombia. The family moved back to Colombia when she was a baby, but when Soraya was eight years old, they returned to New Jersey.

Soraya first became interested in music at the age of five when she heard her uncle playing music in Colombia. Her uncle played "Pueblito Viejo," a Colombian traditional folk song using an instrument called the tiple - a triple string guitar.

Her parents bought her a guitar, which she taught herself how to play. She became proficient in classical violin, and her first 'public' performance was at Carnegie Hall in New York City as a member of the N.Y.C. Youth Philharmonic. Soraya was valedictorian of her class at Point Pleasant Boro High School, where she began writing her own music.

Soraya was only twelve years old when her mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer; she was eighteen when her mother had a recurrence and twenty-two when her mother died, in 1992. Soraya had said that her sense of responsibility increased because she needed to take care of her mother. Together they did breast-cancer research and participated in the Race for the Cure.

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Otro Lado De Mi

Soraya attended Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she studied English literature, French philosophy, and women's studies. Initially, Soraya worried she might be too shy to play before big crowds, but she eventually triumphed over her fear and realized her tremendous talent as a live performer when she played to rapt audiences at coffee houses and around the Rutgers campus.

Soraya obtained a record contract with Polygram Records/Island Records in 1996. Her first album, released simultaneously in both English and Spanish was titled On Nights Like This / En Esta Noche. Both versions received  critical acclaim and enabled her to tour in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe, as a guest performer in concerts for musicians including Natalie Merchant, Zucchero, Sting, Michael Bolton, and Alanis Morissette.

Her songs climbed to the top of the charts across Latin American, European, and U.S. Hispanic markets. Her first single "Suddenly/De Repente" reached #1 in Billboard Latin Pop listings, with the English version receiving some mainstream Adult Contemporary airplay. Her second album, Torre de Marfil/ Wall of Smiles, titled after a song co-written with her idol Carole King was released in late 1997, and helped her attain worldwide recognition.

Unfortunately, in 2000, she was diagnosed with Stage III Breast Cancer, shortly after the release of her third album "Cuerpo y Alma / I'm Yours" — just days before she was about to tour and promote it.

Feeling healthy and in remission, Soraya returned to the music scene in 2003 with the release of her fourth and self-titled album Soraya. The songs reflected her struggles, beliefs, and love for life. She composed, produced, and arranged this Latin Grammy winner for "Best Album by a Singer-Songwriter" and once again - Soraya was at the top.

She released one more successful album, El Otro Lado de Mí, before she finally succumbed to the disease.

Soraya died of breast cancer on May 10, 2006, when she was 37. She was first diagnosed in 2000, at the age of 31, after finding a lump while conducting a routine self-examination. She was diagnosed at Stage III and had a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction as well as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In addition to her own death and her mother, her grandmother and a maternal aunt also dies from breast cancer.

Soraya was a breast cancer advocate for support and education, especially of Hispanic women. Soraya became the first Latin spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, touring the Americas to raise awareness. To encourage other women like herself, Soraya wrote and recorded "No One Else/Por Ser Quien Soy," a song that reflects her experience in fighting breast cancer. Both tracks can be downloaded on her official website. All proceeds benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Before she died, Soroya had two number-one songs on Billboard's Latin Pop Airplay charts. She recorded five albums.

Soroya won a 2004 Latin Grammy Award for the self titled album "Soraya" as "Best Album by Songwriter," which she produced, and a 2005 Latin Grammy Awards nomination for "Female Pop Vocal Album" for her album El Otro Lado de Mí (literally "The Other Side of Me.") She was the opening act for the 2005 Billboard Latin Music Awards.



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