March 31, 1995 – I can’t believe that it has been over twenty years. I was twelve years old and can still remember it just like it was yesterday. It was late afternoon/early evening and I walked in to my house to find my mom sitting by the window holding a cup of coffee. Physically she was there but her mind was far, far away. She didn’t say anything but there was a heaviness that could be felt in the air. I watched her for maybe thirty seconds before she realized that I was in the room. At the time I didn’t understand what I was seeing but now that I’m older I realize that what I was witnessing was just a very small example of how Selena’s talent and charisma had crossed barriers and managed to capture hearts and touch lives of people in various areas of the world.
My mom, a performer herself, kept up with many artists across the country and beyond. Selena was one that she enjoyed for her music as well as her tenacity as an artist. I sat down next to her and she explained to me that, earlier that day, Selena had been killed. She helped me to understand that it was so much more than just a musician dying. Music in my family was never just about the songs. It was also about the power that it had to connect people. Selena had built bridges and had really just begun to connect areas of the music world that had been full of strife for quite some time. Selena’s death was like watching fireworks explode in rich colors across the sky and then suddenly and without reason it all just disappeared and snapped to nothing but blackness, midburst. It was a tragedy that was and is still unable to be placed in to words when you start to think of the ripple effects that her death had on not only her family and loved ones but the entire world of music. The phrase “what might have been” always comes to mind….and it cannot be understated.
Selena Quintanilla was born in Lake Jackson, TX in August 1971 to parents Abraham and Marcella. It was clear early on in Selena’s life that she had inherited her father’s musical talent. He had grown up around music himself and spent most of his youth traveling with his band. He always had hopes of making it big in the music industry but was held back by prejudices of the time. As he put it he was “too American for the Mexican market and too Mexican for the American market”. There was no connection between the two worlds of music. That is until his daughter began taking the stage in 1980 as the lead singer of their family’s band, Selena y Los Dinos, alongside her older brother, A.B., and sister, Suzette. The group started off with a cold reception and were refused bookings around Texas because not only were they performing Tejano music but their lead singer was a female in a market primarily dominated by men at the time. For this reason their father made sure that Selena y Los Dinos developed a tough skin and worked hard to gain their place in the music community.
Selena began recording professionally in 1982. Things began to change for the group when she won the Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1986. She would go on to win this award nine more times throughout her career. Selena signed with Capitol EMI Latin in 1989 and went on to release a self titled album that same year. In 1990 her second album, Ven Conmigo, went on to become the first recording by a female Tejano artist to achieve gold status by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Her third album, Mimundo, was released in 1992 and stayed at number one on the US Billboard Regional Mexican Album charts for eight consecutive weeks. It was in this same year that Selena eloped with her guitarist, Chris Perez. The two would remain together until her death.
Selena began to branch out and pursue other interests while also performing. She always had an interest in fashion and began designing many of her own costumes for her performances. She also was involved in charity work and became the spokesperson for Coca-Cola in Texas. Though she remained busy with her various avenues of interest this did not stop her from releasing her fourth album, Live!, in 1993. This album won Best Mexican/American Album at the 1994 Grammy Awards. Not only was this the first time that a Tejano artist had won this award but it is also the album that is credited with providing Tejano music with its first marketable era after Selana pushed it to the forefront of the Latin music genre. Selena’s next album, Amor Prohibido, made headlines as well by becoming the best selling Latin album in the United States. Not long after, Selena began working on her first English language crossover album. Unfortunately, she would not live to see its release or its success.
Selena’s final album, Dreaming of You, was released on July 18, 1995, almost four months after her death. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 – the first predominantly Spanish album to do so. It sold over 175,000 copies on its first day of release in the United States. It went on to become the second largest in first week sales for a female musician. If Selena were alive today she would be celebrating the 20th anniversary this week of what would have been the first of many more crossover albums that would have broken down even more barriers between multiple cultures and genres. I truly believe that the sky was the limit for Selena. Had she not been murdered I believe that she would have continued a long and fruitful career in the music industry. She was already influential but I believe that she would have reached even more fans had she been able to show what else she could do once crossing over. I have no doubts that she would have continued making headlines and building even more bridges within the industry for Latin Americans as well as women.
Music is one of the most beautiful things that we have in this world and I believe that we were all robbed of something very special when Selena passed away. This is evident by the impact that her short life left on the world. Many artists today such as Beyonce’, Demi Lovato, fellow Tejano music star Jennifer Pena, Katy Perry, and Selena Gomez (who is named after Selena Quintanilla) have credited Selena as being an influence to them musically as well as personally. She left a legacy behind that will not be forgotten. You can’t help but to wonder about the songs that will forever remain unsung by this talented, amazing trailblazer and artist. May she always rest in peace.