The Story of Selena Quintanilla-Perez, the Queen of Tejano

The Queen of Tejano Music

Selena Archive
Vinnie Zuffante / Getty Images

Selena Quintanilla-Perez became known as the "Queen of Tejano Music" during her short but well-received music career performing in the genre in her home state of Texas before her tragic death at age 24 in 1995.

Selena was born on April 16, 1971, in Lake Jackson, Texas, and raised in a Mexican-American family, but only spoke "kitchen Spanish," originally learning to sing her Spanish tunes phonetically but later taking intensive Spanish classes to sharpen her vocabulary and pronunciation.

She released her first album " Mi Primeras Grabaciones" with her band "Selena y Los Dinos" in 1984, but the group wasn't noticed until seven years later in 1989 when she signed a record contract with Capitol/EMI. 

Growing Up in Texas

Selena was the youngest of three children born to Mexican-American Abraham Quintanilla and Marcella. Her father loved music and formed a band with Selena, her sister Suzette and brother A.B. (A.B. Quintanilla III of Los Kumbia Kings / Kumbia All Starz fame). Selena was 6 years old, but her father claims he could tell she was destined for a musical career because she had perfect pitch and timing.

Quintanilla Sr. had performed as a vocalist with "Los Dinos" ("The Boys") when he was young so when he opened a restaurant named "Papagallos" a few years later, the newly formed band "Selena Y Los Dinos" were the featured performers.

Although the restaurant failed and the family went bankrupt and relocated to Corpus Christi, the band hit the road, performing at weddings, cantinas, and festivals throughout southern Texas.

Ultimately, Quintanilla pulled Selena out of school when she was in the eighth grade so that she could stay on the road and she passed her high school equivalency exam via correspondence school.

Early Albums and International Attention

In the beginning, "Selena y Los Dinos" was a small band comprised primarily of Selena, Suzette, and A.B., but over the next few years, they added a few members and started recording for a small, local label.

Their first album, "Mi Primeras Grabaciones" came out in 1984, and although it wasn't sold in any stores, Quintanilla would carry the album with him and pitch them to record executives at the band's performances.

The band recorded 5 albums in this manner, including "Alpha" in 1986; "Preciosa" and "Dulce Amor" came out in 1988. The previous year, Selena won the Tejano Music Award for "Best Female Vocalist" and "Best Female Performer" when she was just 15 years old.

For the next 7 years, Selena would continue to win award after award. In 1989, she signed a record contract with Capitol/EMI and made a string of albums including "Ven Conmigo," "Entre A Mi Mundo" and "Baile Esta Cumbia." Her 1993 album "Selena Live!" won the "Best Mexican-American Album" Grammy, making Selena the only Tejano artist to win a Grammy award.

Personal Affairs and Business Endeavors

Things were going well in Selena's personal life, as she'd met a man named Chris Perez who was hired to perform in Selena's band and the two married in 1992, after overcoming her father's objections and agreeing to move into the house next door. Perez is still in the family business performing with brother A.B.'s Kumbia Kings/Kumbia All Starz.

Selena also began to capitalize on her fame in other ways. She opened Selena Etc. Inc, a company that included boutiques that sold her clothing line.

The family had avoided fan clubs up until 1990 when Selena met Yolanda Saldivar, the aunt of one of Selena's childhood friends. Although they were strangers at that point, Saldivar convinced the family that a fan club would be a good idea and professed great admiration for the singer. Saldivar became the president of Selena's fan club — an unpaid position that soon boasted over 9000 members.

In 1994, as a reward for her hard work, Selena promoted Saldivar to the paid position of overseeing Selena Etc. Inc. Things started going wrong in short order. The company's designer quit, saying he couldn't work with Saldivar; products that had been paid for were not delivered and there were accusations of misused and missing funds.

Tragedy and Betrayal

Selena and her father confronted Saldivar. The Washington Post reported that Saldivar was actually fired by phone the evening of March 29th and that the fan club president simply said "OK". The next day Saldivar called back and made arrangements to meet with Selena so that she could hand over some paperwork.

On the morning of March 31, 1995, Selena went to the Days Inn in Corpus Christi to meet with Saldivar. We can only guess what was said, but a short time later, as Selena was leaving the room, Saldivar shot her in the back. Selena made it to the lobby before collapsing. She died at the hospital a few hours later.

It was 2 weeks before her 24th birthday.

While Selena's young life was prematurely ended, she continues to win awards and sell records. Her popularity has only grown in the wake of her death with the posthumous release of her last unfinished crossover album "Dreaming Of You," which went quadruple platinum upon its release in 2004, proving that while Selena may have lost her life, her voice has not been stilled.