The Tragic Story of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Jarett Burke
Selena was a crossover star and the Queen of Tejano music. She was one of the most celebrated and influential Latin artists of the 90s, but her life and career were cut tragically short. In 2020, Netflix is bringing her heartbreaking saga to the screen as “Selena: The Series”, with “The Walking Dead” star Christian Serratos in the lead-role. And judging by the trailer, she's a dead-ringer! In preparation for the show, we're giving you the run-down on the famed artist's life – and untimely death. Join MsMojo, as we take a look at the tragic story of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez.
The Tragic Story of Selena Quintanilla-Perez
Selena was one of the most celebrated and influential Latin artists of the 90s. But her life and career were cut tragically short. In 2020, Netflix is bringing her heartbreaking saga to the screen as “Selena: The Series”, with “The Walking Dead” star Christian Serratos in the lead-role. And judging by the trailer, she’s a dead-ringer! In preparation for the show, we’re giving you the run-down on the famed artist’s life – and untimely death.
Born in 1971 in the Texas city of Lake Jackson, Selena showed signs of musical talent from a young age. Her father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., was a former musician, and recognized his daughter’s pitch-perfect voice immediately, building a family band around her, with himself as manager. Though raised speaking English, Selena was encouraged to sing in Spanish by her Mexican-American father in order to better connect with her heritage and the Latin-American community in and around Texas. At first, she sang Spanish lyrics phonetically, but later became fluent. With her siblings Abraham III on bass and Suzette on drums, the family band played at their father’s Mexican restaurant until the establishment was forced to close in the wake of recession. Bankrupt, the family moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, and sought new beginnings. Now called “Selena y Los Dinos”, the family band brought in money with small local gigs.
As Selena’s popularity grew, so too did her workload. Soon her schoolwork was cutting into the band’s touring schedule, so Abraham took his daughter out of school during the eighth grade. In 1984, the band recorded their first LP, titled “Mis Primeras Grabaciones”, in the Tejano music style. Between 86 and 88, five more albums followed. But the industry was initially unkind to Selena, a young woman in a mostly male-dominated music scene. She persisted alongside her father and siblings, however, and in 1989 her talent was eventually recognized by a music executive from EMI Latin Records. After signing with EMI Latin, Selena released her self-titled debut album that same year and it entered national music charts and landed her the Female Vocalist and Female Entertainer of the Year honors at the 1990 Tejano Music Awards.
Around this time, Selena’s future husband Chris Perez joined her band as a guitarist. The two fell in love, but hid their relationship from Selena’s father, fearing that he wouldn’t allow his daughter’s focus to stray from her music. In 1990, Selena released her second album, “Ven Conmigo”. The single “Baila Esta Cumbia” was a huge hit in Mexico, and is widely considered one of her greatest songs. The album went Gold a year later, selling over 50,000 units, and is now certified triple platinum, with over 180,000 sold. With Selena’s rise in popularity and promise as a commercial star, a fan named Yolanda Saldivar asked Abraham Quintanilla Jr. if she could create an official Selena fan club in San Antonio, Texas. The club went on to become such a success that Saldivar became a close and trusted friend of the family.
The following year was one of both family drama and breakthrough success. In 1992, Selena’s sister saw her flirting with Perez and told their father. In response, he threatened to disband the band, and when his strong-arm tactics failed to stop them seeing each other, he fired Perez as guitarist. So in April of 92, the lovers eloped. The news of his daughter’s marriage hit Quintanilla, Jr. hard, and he distanced himself from friends and family for a time, but ultimately had a change of heart, apologized, and welcomed Perez back into the band. All this family drama thankfully wrapped up just in time for the release of Selena’s third album, “Entre a Mi Mundo” in May. This would prove to be her breakout album, especially in Mexico, as Selena became the first female Tejano singer to sell over 300,000 album copies. The following year, her live album “Selena Live!” wonher a Grammy for best Mexican/American album, and was named Album of the Year at the Billboard Latin Music Awards.
By 1994, Selena had become an icon for young Hispanic women, so she capitalized on her fame by opening a boutique, called Selena Etc., and began designing her own clothing line. Riding a newfound wave of commercial, Selena dropped her fourth album, “Amor Prohibido” that same year and it quickly became one of the best-selling Latin albums in the US, bringing Tejano genre to a broader – and much younger audience – than ever before. She was hailed as the “Queen of Tejano music”.
To help run her business ventures, Selena relied on one person in particular: Yolanda Saldivar. Due to the success of the fan club, Saldivar was assigned to oversee Selena’s boutiques and made her agent. Due to her increased responsibility, Yolanda relocated in order to be closer to Selena, moving from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, Texas. But with Saldivar at the helm, the boutiques began to struggle. Her penchant for firing people she disliked caused concern among employees, but their warnings to Selena fell on deaf ears. Her father, however, investigated their claims, along with concerns from members of Selena’s fan club. In 1995 he discovered that Saldivar had embezzled $30,000 from the fan club and boutiques. He threatened to report Saldivar to the police, requested financial records for the businesses, and warned Selena to stay away from her. However, Selena failed to heed her father’s advice, deeming Saldivar too important for the boutiques to dismiss.
After Saldivar failed to deliver the requested financial records, Selena confronted her in her hotel room on March 31, 1995. Saldivar responded by pulling a gun on Selena and shooting her in the right shoulder as the singer fled. Selena was able to make it to the lobby, leaving a long trail of blood - but later died from blood loss and cardiac arrest. Attempting to flee the scene of the crime, Saldivar was stopped by police and engaged in a nine-hour standoff before finally entering custody. In the short time of just over one year, Yolanda Saldivar went from trusted friend of the Quintanilla family to the murderer of Quintanilla Jr.’s youngest child. She would be charged with first-degree murder in 1995, and sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole for 30 years.
Selena’s death sent shockwaves through the Latin-American community and the entire United States. Her death made front-page news and over 60,000 mourners attended her funeral. It’s difficult to overstate her lasting impact on music, especially after such a short career. Hailed as one of the most influential Latin artists of all time, she’s credited with popularizing Latin music as a whole and breaking barriers for Latin-American artists. In fact, her final album, “Dreaming of You,” which was released posthumously in 1995, became the fastest selling American album of that year. Warner Bros. later brought Selena’s life story to the big screen in 1997, with a young Jennifer Lopez in the starring role.
While Selena’s life was brought to a sudden end, fans of the “Queen of Tejano” have not forgotten the impact her music made on their lives, and the barriers she broke for Latin-American women in the United States. And, with the upcoming Netflix series set to release in 2020, we’re thankful that Selena will be able to re-introduce herself to a whole new generation.