Selena Quintanilla was born on April 16, 1971 in Lake Jackson, Texas.
On March 31, 1995, 24 short years later, Selena Quintanilla was dead.
But there are far more important aspects to Selena’s life than her tragic and untimely death. She was the first Tejana artist to sell more than 500,00 copies of her album, Ven Conmigo in 1990. She was referred to as the Mexican Madonna and won the Grammy Award for the best Mexican-American album in 1993 for her album Live. Modern artists such as Jennifer Lopez cite her as an inspiration. She is considered the quintessential Tejana icon.
Despite her importance to the Spanish-speaking community, Selena actually grew up speaking
English. Her family was also vital to her career, as her first gig was singing lead in her family’s band, Selena Y Los Dinos. Her brother Abraham played the bass guitar, and her sister Suzette played the drums. Abraham Sr. (her father), was the manager and producer of the band, and it was he who taught her to sing in Spanish.
She began recording in the professional realm in 1982. The road to the studio was rocky, however. After the 1980s oil glut and the subsequent recession, Selena’s family was forced to close their restaurant. After that, they moved from Lake Jackson to Corpus Christi, and Selena and her siblings started performing at weddings, quinceaneras, fairs, even on street corners to make ends meet. By 1984, Selena had recorded her first LP record Selena y Los Dinos for Freddie Records. The band released a wealth of albums between then and 1988, which were very well received by the Tejano industry, but failed to break out from it.
In 1989, Selena and her management partnered with EMI Latin, a newly formed record company, to
release a crossover album, which would also feature English lyrics. It was this self-titled album that gave Selena her first shot into the mainstream. The Coca-Cola company offered her the role of a Texas spokesperson, and their commercials used her songs. This album was also her first to make it to the national charts.
Following the release of her second album with EMI, Ven Conmigo, things began to happen very quickly. First, she was approached by a fan in San Antonio named Yolanda Saldivar (who will play a larger, infamous role later in her tale), with a request to start a fan club. The family decided that a fan club would increase exposure and create an avenue for greater interaction, so they gave the idea the green light. Saldivar would later manage Selena’s boutiques. Selena was also approached by a Salvadoran singer, Álvaro Torres, to perform a duet; this duet, called “Buenos Amigos,” was her first number one.
In April of 1992, Selena eloped with her newly minted lead guitarist, Chris Pérez. Her family did not agree with her new union, and this tension led to what many critics credit as Selena’s breakthrough album Entre a Mi Mundo. In Mexico, it was certified gold and became the first Tejano album by a female artist to sell this much. Her song “Como La Flor” became her signature recording and is widely considered Selena’s official career-launcher.
She became an icon in Mexican-American culture, receiving her grammy award, appearing in
telenovelas, and began designing and manufacturing a line of clothing. Her fourth studio album Amor Prohibido (released in March of 1994), became one of the best-selling Latin albums in the United States and was certified at Double Platinum. The album expanded Tejano music’s reception, especially among a younger audience, who were drawn to Selena’s talent, aesthetic, and sex appeal.
But in December of 1994, this sweet life began to sour. Selena’s boutiques were failing and no one in the family could put a finger on why. Eventually, all signs began to point towards Saldivar. It was discovered that Saldivar had been embezzling money from the boutiques, and also from the fan club memberships. The family decided to confront Saldivar, who was full of nothing but flimsy excuses and lies. In the end, she begged off and later met Selena for further discussion… alone.
The pair met at Saldivar’s Days Inn motel room on the morning of March 31, 1995. After some serious delay on Saldivar’s part, the pair began to argue about the financial situation. Unable to own up to her actions, Saldivar pulled a gun on Selena, and shot her once in the lower right shoulder, severing an artery and causing serious injury. Selena ran away, towards the lobby, where she collapsed and the paramedics were called. She was whisked away to the hospital for emergency surgery. It was ultimately unsuccessful.
Selena Quintanilla-Perez died from blood loss and cardiac arrest on the table.
After her death, millions of fans publicly grieved. Then-governor of Texas, George W. Bush,
declared her birthday (April 16th), Selena Day. Her influence extends today, especially in Texas. For example, MAC cosmetics have created a makeup line in her memory, to honor her iconic red lips and natural, vivacious glow.
Selena is not just a Tejano icon, she also served an important role for millions of young, Mexican-American girls. She was the representation they needed: in their music, in their television, in their beauty ideals. She was unapologetically and purposefully proud of her heritage and inspired others to do the same. Every time you hear Jennifer Lopez
on the radio, see Lady Gaga’s eccentric outfits, rewatch Selena Gomez on Wizards of Waverly Place, or jam to Solange Knowles’ new album, you are experiencing the echoes of a truly iconic figure.
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