When Selena was breaking concert attendance records at home and abroad, there weren’t a lot of crossover pop stars who looked like her in the United States.
There was Rita Moreno and Gloria Estefan and … well, that’s about it.
The March 31, 1995, death of the Mexican-American singer plunged many Latino listeners into mourning and brought her music to the attention of English speakers who would soon become fans.
Selena Quintanilla-Perez started singing the Tejano music that eventually made her famous in her father’s restaurant in Lake Jackson, Texas. Her father Abraham taught the family band and named them Los Dinos after his own group from earlier years. Selena’s brother, A.B., played bass, and her sister, Suzette, played drums.
When the family moved to Corpus Christi, the group started getting gigs at local parties and weddings.
Selena was only 15 when she won female entertainer of the year at the Tejano Music Awards. That got her a record contract, and several albums followed. She eventually married her guitarist, Chris Perez.
In 1994, she won a Grammy for best Mexican-American album for “Selena Live!” and seemed poised for mainstream stardom.
When the president of Selena’s fan club shot her to death the following year in a Texas motel room, her first English-language album was months from release. Her death made international headlines.
She was 23 years old.
Twenty years later, her influence is still being felt. Her official Facebook page still has more than 2 million likes, and fans are remembering the singer who crossed barriers and made them sing and dance to her blend of Tejano music. Fans will celebrate her life and legacy at the commemorative Fiesta de la Flor in Corpus Christi in mid-April.
Here are five things you may not know about Selena.
Selena had to learn Spanish.
A third-generation Texan of Mexican descent, Selena didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. Neither did her husband, Perez, who played guitar in her band and fell in love with her on the road.
In his book, “To Selena, with Love,” Perez said they practiced speaking Spanish before their first big publicity blitz in Mexico. “In Mexico, Selena mangled her conversations in Spanish like the rest of us, but not for long.”
“She said, ‘It’ll be cool. You watch. I’m going to learn Spanish and surprise everybody,’ ” Perez wrote. “She got better and better, to the point where I’d have to ask her to slow down so that I could understand what she was saying.”
She sold out the Astrodome.
Selena performed several times at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at the Astrodome to sold-out crowds of more than 60,000 people. (It wasn’t just any rodeo: Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and the Osmonds have all played the event.)
“We had 20 performances this year,” Leroy Shafer, assistant general manager of the show, told the New York Times in 1995. “We had Reba McEntire, George Strait, Clint Black and Vince Gill. She had the highest-selling show concert at our show this year, at 61,041 in the Astrodome.”