While Selena Quintanilla, the queen of Tejano music, lived for only 23 years, her legacy will surely continue until the end of time.
From her tragic and early death in 1995, the artistry and influence of the Mexican-American singer has transcended pop culture and inspired the music and fashion of those who came after her, including Jennifer Lopez, who appeared as Quintanilla in the 1997 Selena Biopic, to younger artists of today such as Camila Cabello and Kacey Musgraves, who covered Quintanilla’s songs.
Featuring a Hollywood star in her name and the wax figure of a Madame Tussaud in her painting, the masses remain captivated by Quintanilla’s revolutionary sound and influence. And now Netflix continues to expand the reach of Quintanilla with the network’s newest original title, Selena: The Series. The Series, which will be released on Friday, follows the earlier years of Quintanilla’s life and tells how she, the girl, became a legend.
But it didn’t start with glitz and glory for Quintanilla. Before her talent and determination made her fame soar, she was only the youngest daughter of Abraham Quintanilla and Marcella Samora and the little sister of AB and Suzette Quintanilla. She lived in Lake Jackson, Texas, and it was only when she was about six years old that her father, himself a former musician, discovered that Selena Quintanilla could sing.
“Her timing and pitch were perfect, I could see that from day one,” her father told People magazine in a 1995 interview.
After realizing that his daughter had a powerful set of pipes and the natural charm of a star, Abraham Quintanilla appointed Selena Quintanilla as lead singer of the family band at the age of 10, with her older brother acting as bass guitarist while her sister played drums. The group first performed at the family’s Tex-Mex restaurant, Papa Gayo’s.
However, after the restaurant closed and the Quintanilla family went bankrupt and lost their home – as a result of the oil spill in the 1980s – Abraham Quintanilla stepped up his efforts to form a more solid band and gave the group the name Selena y Los Dinos, performing Tejano music, especially at weddings, quinceaneras and events in the new city of Corpus Christi.
Although English was her primary language, Selena Quintanilla’s father taught her Spanish. Watching telenovelas (Latin soap operas) also helped her learn the language.
In 1984 the band recorded their first LP, Selena y Los Dinos, for Freddie Records. In 1987, Selena Quintanilla was named Singer of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards – an achievement she achieved for nine consecutive years. Selena y Los Dinos then released five more EPs – Alpha (1986), Munequito de Trapo (1987), And the Winner Is… (1987), Preciosa (1988) and Dulce Amor (1988) – before the group had the opportunity to record their debut album Selena on EMI Latin Records in 1989. When the group’s second studio project, Ven Conmigo, was released the following year, it was the first Tejano album to reach gold status, making Selena Quintanilla a superstar encyclopedia.
As Selena Quintanilla’s musical career took off, so did her love life. The singer was in love with the band’s guitarist, Chris Perez, who joined Selena y Los Dinos a year before the release of Ven Conmigo, and despite her father’s disapproval – who actually kicked Perez out of the group when he discovered the couple’s relationship – the couple sealed their marriage in a secret ceremony in 1992. It took some time, but after learning of the marriage of Selena Quintanilla and Perez, Abraham Quintanilla finally accepted the couple and invited Perez back into the band.
Selena Quintanilla’s career continued to flourish with the release of the 1993 album Live!, which reached number 2 on Billboard’s top Latin album charts and earned Selena Quintanilla a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album, making her the first Tejano woman to ever win this award.
The fame of this album sparked interest in a crossover album and gave Selena Quintanilla the opportunity to begin work on her first English-language album, while at the same time working on her fourth studio album, Amor Prohibido, released in 1994, and opening the first of her two clothing boutiques, Selena Etc., which was managed by her former fan club president, Yolanda Saldívar.
Amor Prohibido was a huge success that catapulted Tejano music into the mainstream, and Selena Quintanilla was celebrated as the Queen of Tejano. The album not only produced two of the most played Latin singles of 1993 and 1994 – “Amor Prohibido” and “No Me Queda Más” – but also earned Selena y Los Dinos a Grammy nomination for Best Mexican-American Album in 1995, won the Record of the Year award at the Tejano Music Awards, and the same year the Regional/Mexican Album of the Year at the Lo Nuestro Awards.
Unfortunately, Selena Quintanilla was not able to enjoy the fruits of her labor for long. After Abraham Quintanilla discovered that Saldívar had embezzled thousands of dollars with fake checks from Selena Quintanilla’s fan club and boutiques, Selena Quintanilla met Saldívar in a motel in 1995, where she shot and killed the singer.
Saldívar is currently serving a life sentence for first degree murder. She is eligible for parole in 2025.
Although she did not live to see it, Selena Quintanilla’s lifelong dream of making an English-language album came true with the posthumous release of Dreaming of You four months after her death. The record was an instant hit with fans and even reached number 1 on Billboards Hot 200.