Her musical talent was evident early on. At age 5, she was teaching herself the guitar, moved by the folk tunes of Colombia and Lebanon, where her mother’s family was from. At age 8, her family moved back to New Jersey for good. At that time, she was already proficient in classical violin, an instrument she would play to a Carnegie Hall audience years later.
Despite living in the U.S., Soraya stuck with her Latin roots, learning and absorbing its sound into her own creations. She would play her music to captive audiences at the coffee houses of Rutgers University, where she studied English literature, French philosophy and women’s studies.
Word of her sound reached far beyond the Rutgers campus and, in early 1996, she got a record contract with Polygram Latino/Island Records. On Nights Like This, her debut release, was showered in accolades and put her on tours to open for Natalie Merchant, Zucchero, Sting, and Alanis Morissette.
Four songs hit the top of the charts just about everywhere in the Latin American and U.S. Spanish markets, and her single “Suddenly / De Repente” dominated the Billboard Latin Pop listings.
But it was her second album, Wall of Smiles, co-written with her idol Carole King and released in late 1996, that helped her gain worldwide recognition. As far as Germany and Australia, her CDs flew off the shelves. She wrote the soundtrack of an international TV series, and was set to record her third album, but took time off to draw inspiration.
In 2000, Soraya released Cuerpo Y Alma, and again, her album was widely acclaimed. But just before she embarked on a world tour, a terrible tragedy struck. At 31, Soraya was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer, the same disease that killed her mother, grandmother and maternal aunt.
Soraya put everything aside as she sought an aggressive two-year treatment of chemotherapy and radiation. While she won that battle, the questions lingered: Why are so many women diagnosed with late-stage cancer? And why is the death rate so high among them? Determined to get the word out, Soraya became the Latin spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, touring all the Americas to raise awareness.
Doctors, researchers, lawmakers, and activists alike began asking Soraya to speak at events. And while she continued that fight, she decided to return to music, signing a new record deal with EMI Latin in 2002.
Strengthened and inspired by her ordeal, Soraya released her fourth and self-titled album in 2003, which blended Latin, R&B, folk, pop, and country. For her work, she won the 2004 Latin Grammy for Best Songwriting.
Not one to quit while she’s ahead, Soraya released her fifth album in March 2005, entitled El Otro Lado de Mi. Her most hard-rocking project yet, it was an expression of struggle and hope rolled into one.
Despite her tremendous fight against the awful disease, Soraya passed away from breast cancer on May 10, 2006 at the age of 37. Her wonderful outlook on life, incredible talent and selfless advocacy work will keep her beautiful spirit alive for many years to come.