MIAMI BEACH, FL (AP) — Veteran Mexican artist Juan Gabriel took home four awards and Puerto Rico's Ricky Martin and El Gran Combo won special honors Thursday at the Billboard Latin Music Awards.
Gabriel, who earned five nominations, rode the wave of his hit "Abrazame Muy Fuerte" (Hold me tightly) to win track of the year and airplay track of the year. He also was named the year's top songwriter, and his duet with Nydia Rojas entitled "No Vale la Pena" (It's not worth it) won track of the year for a vocal duo.
"I would like to thank everyone for their 30 years of support," Gabriel said. He also performed a bolero with the upstart group Los Tri-O.
The awards at the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts honored the most popular albums, songs and performers in Latin music as determined by sales and radio airplay data published on Billboard's weekly charts.
Martin, among the top Latin performers to cross over to the English-language pop arena, was presented with the special Spirit of Hope award for his charitable works.
Past winners of the award include Olga Tanon, Willy Chirino and Los Tigres Del Norte.
El Gran Combo, regulars on the salsa scene for four decades, received the Lifetime Achievement Award. The 13-member group with one of the most renowned horn sections in Latin music released another album this year entitled "El Nuevo milenio — el mismo sabor" (New millennium — the same flavor).
The show's host, actor Miguel Varoni, brought the audience to laughter during a short monologue at the start of the show.
"There's Marc Anthony," Varoni said. "Marc learned everything from me. And there's Carlos Vives — Charles Lives in English."
Cristian won Latin track artist of the year, and Anthony won the artist of the year award for top albums. Anthony's "Libre" (Free) earned him the prize for male tropical/salsa album of the year.
Celine Dion, singing in Spanish, and Anthony headlined the list of performers, which also included Colombian singer Carlos Vives, three-time nominees Jaci Velasquez and Cristian, and the pop/hip-hop/cumbia fusion group A.B. Quintanilla y Los Kumbia Kings.
Dion, who sang "Aun Existe Amor" (Love Still Exists), received a special award for her hit "My Heart Will Go On," which was the first English-language song to top Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks chart.
"To all the Latin people, I love you," Dion said.
Velasquez and pop stars Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Estefan were among the female nominees. Velasquez's "Mi Corazon" (My Heart) won for female pop album of the year and Lopez took home the award for dance single of the year.
Colombian star Shakira, another crossover success, won the debut Viewer's Choice Award, while Tanon netted the female tropical/salsa album of the year award.
Cristian defeated Gabriel, Banda El Recodo and Marco Antonio Solis for Latin track artist of the year. Solis, a member of Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame, was nominated in four categories but was shut out.
Mexican artist Lupillo Rivera, who led with six nominations, won the male and new artist awards for regional Mexican album of the year for work from "Despreciado" (Despised).
Rivera, who was born in Mexico but raised in Long Beach, Calif., is among the best-known artists of a regional Mexican style called norteno. He returned to Mexico to record "Despreciado."
Telemundo, a Spanish-language television network, will air the ceremony Sunday.