- John Koegel
Selena (16 Apr. 1971–31 Mar. 1995), singer, was born Selena Quintanilla in Lake Jackson, Texas, to Abraham Quintanilla, Jr., a professional musician, and Marcella Quintanilla. Selena attended Oran M. Roberts Elementary School. Her father, who performed with the band Los Dinos in South Texas from 1957 through 1971, encouraged Selena to sing and allowed her to perform in public as early as age eight. English was her first language, but her father taught her to sing in Spanish. Her accent seemed to disappear when she sang. The Quintanilla family musical group, including father Abraham, brother A. B., sister Suzette, and Selena, became a professional band in 1981, when Selena was ten. They also adopted the name Los Dinos, and later Selena y Los Dinos. Selena moved from her childhood home in Lake Jackson to the Molina neighborhood in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1982. She attended West Osos Junior High School there. Members of her family, including her father, were practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Early in her career Selena received significant recognition and validation of her musical talents. Beginning in 1986, for example, she won the annual Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year nine times. Selena and her group Los Dinos recorded for local Texas labels before 1989—GP, Feddie, Cara, Manny—including three albums, mostly sold in Texas and northern Mexico. That year she signed a contract with the multi-national Capitol/EMI Latin label. This change of record company significantly improved her finances, as well as the sophistication, distribution, and market share of her recordings throughout the USA, Mexico, and Latin America. Because of this activity and public adulation, fans, critics, and record labels dubbed both Selena and the older Tejana singer Laura Canales “La Reina de la Onda Tejana” (The Queen of Tejano Music).
In 1989 Selena also received her high school diploma, from the American School, a non-profit, accredited distance education institution, from which numerous prominent public artistic figures graduated. On 2 April 1992 she married Christopher Perez, a guitarist and member of Selena y Los Dinos.
Selena was always in direct contact with Texas-Mexican border culture and moved easily between English- and Spanish-language situations. Unlike earlier Tejana and Chicana singers such as Lydia Mendoza, Chelo Silva, and Adelina García, who had to sing a male-oriented song repertory, Selena sang from the female perspective. And like earlier female musicians, she encountered discrimination as a Latina performer in the male-dominated Tejano music scene. Selena sang a wide range of song genres and styles, including mainstream pop, música norteña, salsa, cumbia, mariachi, and rap.
In 1991 she released the album Ven Conmingo, the first in a series of successful recordings during the first half of the decade. The following year she released the hit “Como la flor,” which became her signature song. She followed with Entre a Mi Mundo (1992), Selena Live (1993), and Amor Probibido (1994), her best-selling album. Selena appeared in a brief singing role in the film Don Juan DeMarco (1995), starring Johnny Depp. She had reached stardom in the popular music mainstream. But she never abandoned her Tejano and Latino fans, whom she esteemed highly.
Selena’s life was cut short when Yolanda Saldívar, the founder of Selena’s fan club and the manager of Selena Etc., her clothing boutique stores, murdered the singer in Corpus Christi after Selena had confronted Saldívar about her embezzlement of funds. An outpouring of public grief occurred in the aftermath, and her many fans saw her as a leading representative of Latino popular music and culture in the United States and abroad. Many also saw her as a positive role model for women’s empowerment, especially for Latinas. Her posthumous album Dreaming of You, a crossover recording, was released in July 1995 to great acclaim and massive sales.
Selena’s life and career endured in public memory in numerous ways. The film biography Selena (directed by Gregory Nava), starring Jennifer Lopez in the title role, was released in 1997 by Warner Brothers. Her record label EMI Latin released the documentary film Selena Remembered (directed by Cecilia Miniucchi), in 1997, with the cooperation of the Quintanilla family. The United States Postal Service honored Selena in 2011 with a postage stamp in the “Latin Music Legends” series, along with Carlos Gardel (Argentina), Tito Puente (USA), Carmen Miranda (Brazil, USA), and Celia Cruz (Cuba, USA). And in 2017 Selena was honored with a star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, in front of the iconic building of Capitol Records, to which her record label, Capitol EMI Latin, is connected.
Selena’s life and tragic murder sparked numerous journalistic and also sensationalistic writings, including Joe Nick Patoski, Selena: Como la Flor (1995);Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat and María Celeste Arrarás, Selena’s Secret: The Revealing Story Behind Her Tragic Death (1997)Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat. Manuel H. Peña studied the Texas-Mexican musical culture in which Selena thrived in Música Tejana: The Cultural Economy of Artistic Transformation (1999)Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat. Scholars have (re)interpreted her life and career in the contexts of Latinidad (Latinness), gender, feminism, theatricality, and capitalism; see Sarah M. Misemer, Secular Saints: Performing Frida Kahlo, Carlos Gardel, Eva Perón, and Selena (2008)Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat; and Deborah Parédez, Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory (2009)Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat. An obituary appeared in The New York Times, 1 Apr.l 1995.