Superstar Selena Quintanilla-Perez: 1971-1995

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It’s been more than twenty years since we’ve lost Tejano superstar, Selena Quintanilla-Perez. Quintanilla-Perez achieved worldwide fame and success as the lead singer of Selena y Los Dinos, in 1982, and then moving on as a solo artist in 1989. Her music was a huge inspiration to the Tejano and Mexican communities. When she performed she did so with grace, style, and a warm, heart-felt smile. Because of her tremendous success, she was named the Queen of Tejano, or La Reina, for short.

When I was a young girl, I remember watching the 1997 biopic, Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez and Edward James Olmos. The movie perfectly captured every move, hair style, and piece of clothing known to Selena. Because it had been only two years since her passing, it was critical to include the most important images of her ground-breaking career. In fact, Jennifer Lopez did not provide any of the singing in the film because fans and family wanted the performances to remain authentic.

Living in New York around the time of Selena’s peak, I had no knowledge of Mexican-American culture. I simply watched the film for the dances, without knowing the content of her life or her music. I watched the movie again in my early teens and began listening to the songs. I figured since I was living in New Mexico, it was a perfect time to reunite with her music and background.

Before Selena began singing, her father wanted her to learn Spanish, primarily because she was Mexican, and owning that part of her identity made her music authentic and passionate. After listening to several songs, I noticed a variety of genres incorporated in some of her songs, giving Tejano music a completely different twist, including freestyle (Enamorada De Ti), Mexican Cumbia (Baila Esta Cumbia), and even Latin-pop (Como La Flor). These songs, specifically, illustrate a prominent richness for the style of her music. When watching a live performance of Enamorada De Ti in 1992, we see two worlds of music in one picture: freestyle dance combined with Tejano beats, and it’s natural, creative, and energetic.

People have come forward saying whether they knew Spanish or not, her music was still very empowering and put everybody in a good mood. I mean, I can’t think of a better song to dance to when I’m frying my eggs in the morning. And as long as I’m talking about the combination of genres, let’s not forget about her most legendary performance, The Last Concert, on February 26 1995, where she danced and sang a 1970s-style “Disco Medley,” featuring “I Will Survive” and “Funkytown.”

I re-watch the video to remember her legacy, elegance, and grace. Upon going on stage to start the Disco Medley, the first words Selena sings are: “At first I was afraid, I was petrified.” While that may be the intro to Gloria Gaynor’s hit single, “I Will Survive,” it’s also what she was feeling the night Yolanda Saldivar took her life at just twenty-three years old. Saldivar was Selena’s fan club president for Selena Etc., a boutique established in 1994. In the Spring of 1995, Selena’s family found out that Saldivar had been embezzling money from both the fan club and boutique. When Selena confronted Saldivar about missing financial records and money, Saldivar pulled a .38 Taurus Model 85 revolver and shot Selena in the back, severing an artery. Doctors say that if the bullet was just an inch above or below, Selena might have lived.

The death of Selena caused great distress to the Latin American population. Dreaming of You, her fifth and final album, featured both English and Spanish tracks, providing new sounds, content, and style. This was the image of the new Selena, and everyone was falling in love for a second time.

Her music and legacy still live on; a museum in her honor sits in Corpus Christi, Texas, and showcases everything from awards to costumes, even her red Porsche. However, if you’re not planning a trip to Corpus Christi anytime soon, I suggest opening Spotify and listening to a few songs from La Reina de Tejano.