Selena: A Life Remembered (Part 2)

~Continued from Part 1~

As Selena’s popularity grew placing additional demands on the band (e.g. travel), Abraham removed Selena from the 8th grade, drawing immediate unwarranted criticism. Some accused him of violating Child Labor laws while others warned that he was ruining his kids. “They’ll be surrounded by drinking and drugs” and “it’s going to have an effect on them,” the critics incorrectly expected.[1]

Despite the skeptics, Selena remained unaffected. She continued to have fun and enjoy singing. She kept her down-to-earth personality and refused to snub anyone, believing that “if you treat people good, it [will] come back” in the end.[2] consequently, Selena always maintained a great repertoire with her fans and audience.[3] At the same time, she also kept up with her academics and earned a G.E.D. from a Chicago-based harmonies School at 17.

As Selena was growing into a star, her brother, A.B. III was becoming an achieved songwriter and producer, after originally taking it up to supply his youngest sister with the quality, original material that the band lacked. One of his first songs, “Dame Un Beso” enjoyed moderate success. Before long, A.B. III supplanted his father as the band’s leading songwriter. In addition, Ricky Vela, another band member also assisted with music composition.

When the band’s second album, “Alpha” was released, it brought Selena her first music honors. She won “Female Vocalist of the Year” at the 1987 West Texas Hispanic Music Awards and KFLZ Awards ceremonies and was voted “Female Vocalist of the Year” and “Performer of the Year” at the Tejano Music Awards. This recognition introduced Selena to two influential people: Rick Trevino, founder of the Tejano Music Awards and Johnny Canales, a television personality on one of the top-rated Spanish shows. Their efforts gave Selena much needed publicity, expanding the horizons for “Selena Y Los Dinos.”

Two more albums, “Preciosa” and “Dulce Amor” were released in 1988 earning Selena greater recognition. With album sales exceeding 20,000, Selena’s name began to spread beyond Texas. Not surprisingly, Selena was a finalist for “Female Vocalist of the Year” for 1988 and “Terco Corazon” and A.B. III were nominated for “Single of the Year” and “Songwriter of the Year,” respectively, at the Tejano Music Awards.

Despite Selena’s growing fame, the Quintanillas’ lifestyle had not changed much. They continued to live on beans and hamburgers and shared just about everything. As a consequence, they had “Nobody You Know” written at the top of the band’s bus, “Big Bertha’s” front windshield.

Their fortunes, though, changed dramatically when Selena was signed by Jose Behar, the former head of Sony’s Latin music division and creator of the Capitol/EMI Latin label in 1989. The signing came about when Behar and a friend, Mario Ruiz, who became President of EMI Mexico attended the 1989 Tejano Music Awards searching for new talent and discovered Selena. The events went as follows according to the account by Jose Behar:

“…We were standing at the back of the auditorium when we saw her. Mario and I looked at each other like, ‘Wow. This is special.'”

“…I said, ‘It’s interesting. Women don’t sell in the Tejano market.’ And they really hadn’t. however I said to myself, ‘This is the crossover act I’m looking for.”[4]

Afterwards, Behar, believing that he had found the next Gloria Estefan, a popular and successful crossover Latin artist went backstage and met and signed Selena after talking to her father. At the time, Behar never imagined how many records Selena would ultimately sell.

Despite her signing with Capitol/EMI Latin and her taking “Female Vocalist of the Year” honors at the 1989 and 1990 Tejano Music Awards, and also “Female Entertainer of the Year” at the 1990 Tejano Music Awards, Selena’s first few new releases did little better than her past ones. However, another breakthrough came in 1991 when she was paired with Alvaro Torres in “Buenos Amigos.” Their video soared to #1 on the Billboard Latin Tracks Chart giving Selena national exposure. An turn up on “Donde Quiero Que Estes” with the Barrio Boyzz, an immensely popular Latin band further enhanced Selena’s rising stature, enabling her to go into the international Latin market with her solo hits, “La Carcacha” and “Como La Flor.”

Johnny Canales then helped make Selena an moment Celebrity in Mexico leading to an offer star in a leading role in a Mexican Soap opera, which she turned down because of its steamy scenes. Though determined to make it big, Selena wasn’t about to sacrifice her principles. She valued her popularity to her general audience that consisted of young children and grandparents alike.

Performing in skin-tight pants, low-cut bustiers, and shiny outfits was her limit. Unlike many others, Selena did not need to forego her morals for fame. Her natural-born talent was sufficient. In addition, when Johnny Canales compared Selena to Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson, all pop stars, he declared, “I’d say [Selena] was like those people, but better. Those people never sang Tejano. She could do what they do, but it would be hard for them to do what she does.”[5]

Also during this time, the Los Dinos Band was expanding, providing Selena with some of her happiest moments. Pete Astudillo, a Laredo, Texas native and talented artist joined in 1989. Together, he and Selena went on to perform hit duets like “Yo Te Amo” and “Amame, Quiereme.”[6] consequently the pair were twice nominated for “Vocal Duo of the Year” at the Tejano Music Awards.

A second great addition was Chris Perez, who briefly joined Los Dinos in 1988, left a year later to try it on his own, and then returned in 1990. Chris was a talented guitarist who ultimately became Selena’s husband. They were married on April 2, 1992.

Although Selena’s father initially opposed the marriage, he soon viewed Chris as “a son.”[7] Afterwards, Selena and Chris shared a nearby house, with her parents living next door in one house and her brother, A.B. III and his wife and children in another. Between the three houses there were nine dogs, five of which belonged to Selena, an avid animal lover. Later the pair bought a piece of land a little further away with plans to build a larger house to start a family and run a small farm. Prior to her death, Selena had already picked out the furniture.

As Selena’s career took off, she released two hit albums: “Ven Conmigo” featuring the hit song “Baila Esta Cumbia” in 1990 and “Entre A Mi Mundo” featuring the hit songs “La Carcacha” and “Como La Flor” in 1992. The great success of these albums completed Selena’s transformation from “unknown” to “star.” Then a show featuring Selena, La Mafia, and Emilia Navaira at the Summit in Houston in the summer of 1991 drew more than 9000 people. Next followed “Selena Live” in 1993, which gave the young singer her first Grammy along with three Tejano Awards, opening the door to mainstream pop.

After four years of attempts, Jim Behar, using Selena’s soaring popularity and sales to their advantage, finally convinced EMI’s pop division to give her the crossover chance she had been dreaming of. Prior to 1993, Behar had faced repeated setbacks and had to start over each time when meaningful executives left the Company. As one EMI executive, Nancy Brennan, Vice President of Artist and Repertoire summarized, “All he [Behar] ever talked about was Selena. He was like a broken record, ‘Selena, Selena…'”[8]

Brennan was exposed to Selena when she attended a Billboard Latin Music Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada to see Jon Secada, an immensely popular EMI artist. There, Selena’s opening made a lasting impression. By December 1993, Selena had been signed by EMI’s SBK subsidiary to begin her crossover album, which took a year-and-a-half to produce due to the monotonous effort of finding the right songs and producers.

The 1994 “Amor Prohibido” success also additional to the crossover delays since Selena was requested to appear everywhere. Nancy Brennan recounted one such episode when had been forced to postpone a recording session: “This is the first time I have ever made a debut album by an artist who was too busy to record for me. How can you tell someone, ‘No I don’t want you to play the Astrodome for 60,000 people; I want you to work on your record.’ Everyone wants her.”[9]

The “Amor Prohibido” album featuring four #1 Latin Singles (title track “Amor Prohibido” “No Me Queda Mas,” “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” and “Fotos Y Recuerdos” launched Selena’s greatest year to date. When “Amor Prohibido” came out, it promptly replaced Gloria Estefan’s “Mi Tierra” at #1 on Billboard’s Latin Tracks Charts and already made the top 200 on Billboard’s Pop Charts. It led to six awards at the Tejano Music Awards ceremony attended by more than 45,000 people – “Female Entertainer of the Year,” “Female Vocalist of the Year,” “Orchestra Album of the Year,” Record of the Year,” “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” “Song of the Year,” and “Techno Cumbia, “Crossover Song of the Year.” More than 400,000 copies had sold at the time of Selena’s death less than a year after its release.

Selena also realized two more dreams in 1994. First, she opened a boutique/salon in Corpus Christi called “Selena Etc.” Since childhood, Selena had dreamed of designing clothing and jewelry. Second, she played a bit-role “Don Juan DeMarco,” a film released in early 1995 that starred Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp and offered the possible of leading to greater and perhaps leading roles. Acting had been a recent dream of Selena’s.

With the impending release of Selena’s cross-over album, “Dreaming of You,” her wide-spread fame and rocketing need, a million-dollar record deal, a Grammy Award, endorsements from sponsors like Coca Cola and her own line of clothing, it seemed like Selena’s meteoric career could only rise higher. By this time, Selena had been named “one of the most successful Latin entertainers in the world” by “Hispanic Business” magazine.

The sold-out Astrodome Concert for the Houston Livestock and Rodeo February 1995 with a crowd of 61,000+, at the time, the largest in Astrodome history only strengthened this belief. however ironically and almost prophetically, when Selena was asked to speculate on her future during a July 1994 interview, she modestly stated, “I just hope nevertheless to be alive, hopefully singing nevertheless and later on, maybe 10 years yonder, I hope to have a family by then.”[10]

Four years earlier, Yolanda Saldivar, a self-professed “biggest Selena fan” had come into Selena’s life after persistently requesting to start a fan club in her honor. Although Abraham had initially refused, he ultimately gave in when Yolanda agreed to make it “not-for-profit” and donate leftover proceeds to charity. ultimately Yolanda’s relationship with the Quintanillas deepened when Selena named her Operations Manager to manager sales, customer-relations, and “Selena Etc.’s” finances.

At the time, no one saw Saldivar’s dark obsession. Furthermore, no one had been aware that Yolanda had failed to pay off a $5300 student loan, left her nursing job under suspicious circumstances, been turned down by Shelly Lares, a noticeable, young Tejano singer to form a “Shelly Lares Fan Club,” and been accused of stealing $9200 from a dermatologist she had worked for.

However, by early 1995, Abraham Quintanilla began to receive complaints from upset fans who reported that they were not receiving the Selena packets, consisting of a T-shirt, baseball cap, cassette/CD, and autographed poster they had paid for in membership dues. Money also began to go missing from the boutiques. With their suspicions growing, the Quintanillas conducted an investigation and discovered that Yolanda had written four checks, including one to herself for $3000 from the Fan Club’s books. Selena’s father then angrily confronted Yolanda who claimed she could explain everything if given some time. Afterwards, Saldivar purchased a .38 quality gun.

however despite the mounting evidence, Selena sent Yolanda to Mexico to assist with opening a “Selena Etc.” boutique in Monterrey. Hopeful that they could keep friends after the confrontation, Selena was willing to give Saldivar the chance she had requested – to “prove her innocence and find the missing papers.”

Then while in Mexico, Yolanda phoned Selena to hysterically report that the car containing the documents had been stolen and that she had been raped. however Yolanda refused medical care when she returned to Corpus Christi. Instead, she requested that Selena meet her at the Day’s Inn motel in Corpus Christi. When Selena and her husband arrived, Yolanda failed to produce any documents.

Afterwards, Yolanda called Selena around midnight on the morning of March 31, 1995 claiming that she was experiencing from internal bleeding caused by the rape. During the phone conversation, Saldivar pleaded for Selena to return alone, which she did in the morning.

Once there, Selena drove Yolanda to the hospital where she retracted her rape story. Afterwards Selena drove her back to the motel where they both argued after, it is believed, Selena fired her and planned to return a Faberge Egg ring funded by all of the boutique employees, which she had been misled into believing that Yolanda had generously given to her as a gift.

Upon hearing the argument and a gunshot, a maid cleaning a nearby room looked out the window and saw Selena clutching her chest, screaming for help as she fled from Yolanda who clutched the .38 in her right hand, aimed and fired again.

When Selena made it to the lobby, she collapsed, bleeding profusely from her wound. Although the desk clerk locked the door and called 911 for an ambulance, it was too late. Efforts to revive Selena, despite a blood infusion and electric shocks that briefly restarted her heart, were to no avail. She was distinct dead at 1:05 PM. Afterwards, tens of thousands filed past Selena’s open coffin to pay their last respects as her body lay in state.

Today, nearly 12 years after her death, Selena’s legacy lives on. Despite the tragedy, Selena made the crossover into mainstream and is an icon whose spirit nevertheless lives. Reminder’s of Selena’s warmth, generosity, and indelible beauty are all around Corpus Christi. Mirador de la Flor stands along the Gulf shore while a museum dedicated to her career stands only a few miles away. Each year thousands visit Selena’s grave, Mirador de la Flor, and the Selena Museum. Selena memorabilia remains popular with scarce autographs going at times for more than a $1000. With her continued fame and popularity, it would not be surprising if the United States Post Office ultimately issued a stamp to honor Selena’s lasting legacy.

__________

[1] Rick Mitchell. Interactive Corpus Christi Caller Times Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

[2] Rick Mitchell. Interactive Corpus Christi Caller Times Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

[3] Bill Hewitt, et al. People Weekly. (Chicago, April 17, 1995) 49.

[4] Rick Mitchell. Interactive Corpus Christi Caller Times Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

[5] Rick Mitchell. Interactive Corpus Christi Caller Times Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

[6] Himilce Novas. Remembering Selena: A Tribute in Pictures and Words. (St. Martin’s Griffin: New York, 1995) 43-44.

[7] Rick Mitchell. Interactive Corpus Christi Caller Times Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

[8] Rick Mitchell. Interactive Corpus Christi Caller Times Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

[9] Rick Mitchell. Interactive Corpus Christi Caller Times Biography. (Houston Chronicle), 1995.

[10] Bruce Hagan, Producer; Joshua Kuvin, Editor, et. al. Dateline NBC – Obsession. (April 7, 1995).

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