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Date: 2022
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Biography
Length: 1,855 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1160L

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About this Person
Born: April 16, 1971 in Lake Jackson, Texas, United States
Died: March 31, 1995 in Corpus Christi, Texas, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Pop singer
Other Names: Quintanilla-Perez, Selena; Quintanilla, Selena
Full Text: 

Selena Quintanilla-Perez, known simply as Selena, was a Mexican American fashion designer and cultural icon known for her booming voice and bold fashion sense. She has often been referred to as the “Queen of Tejano Music,” and her career included multiple top selling hits. The violent death of beloved Tejano vocalist on March 31, 1995, brought to an end more than just a promising musical career. Selena had become an icon in the Hispanic community, a beloved figure to whom Mexican Americans attached their aspirations and their feelings about their cultural identities. Her murder evoked an outpouring of grief comparable to that experienced by other Americans after the deaths of such major cultural figures as President John F. Kennedy. In 2017, the singer was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame.

Selena was born in Lake Jackson, Texas, near Houston, on April 16, 1971, to Abraham and Marcella. Her father, who worked in the shipping department of a chemical plant and later opened a restaurant, had fronted a moderately successful band called Los Dinos (“The Guys”) as a young man. Selena was the youngest of three children. She grew up speaking English; although she understood her parents' Spanish, she had to learn Spanish songs phonetically when she first began to perform and record. Later she studied the language, and by the time she became a star she spoke it fluently. Her parents taught Selena about the realities and struggles of being Mexican American where neither culture fully embraces or accepts you. She has become an icon of Mexican American and/or Chicano identity.

Sang at Family Restaurant

Abraham Quintanilla spotted his daughter's musical talents when she was six years old and envisaged a show-business career for her, sometimes bringing her on stage to perform at the family restaurant. Economic hardship accelerated her career, however, for the recession of the early 1980s hit the Quintanillas (and Texans in general) especially hard. The restaurant closed, and at times Selena became a key family breadwinner. “We were literally doing it to put food on the table,” she told Texas Monthly. Selena dropped out of school, but later earned a high school diploma through correspondence studies.

Those early performances around Houston often featured country music, but after the Quintanillas moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, Selena began to focus on the musical style known as Tejano. Tejano music is a hybrid form whose musical diversity—encompassing traditional Mexican ballads, rock, R&B, polka, country, and even contemporary styles such as hip-hop and techno—reflected the diversity of influences present in modern Mexican American culture. All of those styles were reflected in Selena's body of recorded work, which began with a series of albums recorded for a small independent label in Texas.

Los Dinos featured Selena's brother, Abraham, on bass; he also composed many of Selena's songs. Her sister, Suzette, played drums, and the band's lead guitarist was Chris Pérez, whom Selena married in 1992. The elder Abraham Quintanilla served as manager. Gradually Selena's audiences grew in size, and she began to appear in the large ballrooms that were the central venues of Tejano and northern Mexican musical performances. In 1987 Selena, only 15 years old, won Female Vocalist of the Year and Performer of the Year honors at the annual Tejano Music Awards.

Signed to EMI Latin

Those awards propelled Selena to a major-label contract with the EMI-Latin imprint; her first album for EMI, entitled Selena, was released in 1989. Her contract was reported to be worth six figures, unprecedented in the cottage industry that Tejano music had been up to that time. However, EMI's investment paid off handsomely because by 1995 her recordings had sold an estimated three million copies. The 1993 album Selena Live received a Grammy award for best Mexican American album, and the following year's Amor prohibido reached gold-record levels with sales of a reported 600,000 copies in the United States alone. Selena now performed to arena-sized crowds such as those at Houston's annual Livestock Show and Rodeo.

A sexy image was nothing new in the world of Latin female vocals, but Selena pushed the trend to new extremes. She also quickly mastered a stage presence that embodied American pop and rock while embracing Latin dance, fashion, and musical style. Sometimes she would elicit wild reactions from male fans by tossing undergarments into concert crowds. Some dubbed Selena the Latin Madonna (in reference to the pop vocal star), but there was always a more wholesome side to her persona as well. Selena was noted for spearheading anti-drug efforts, and her demeanor in media appearances off stage was pleasant and idealistic.

Selena's music had enough variety to complement the subtleties of her image-making. Her 1992 album Baila esta Cumbia fused Tejano with the Colombian dance genre of cumbia, which was popular all over the Spanish-speaking Western hemisphere. She was equally at home with sentimental ballads, exuberant traditional dance tunes, and the self-composed 1994 novelty hit “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.” Sometimes overlooked in discussions of Selena's personal charisma and of her way of connecting with fans was her purely musical creativity; she took Tejano music into new stylistic realms. Her famous "last concert," though technically not her last, at Houston's Astrodome on 2/26/95 is considered by many to be among the most important performances by any Mexican American artists in history. Much has been written analyzing Selena's cultural reach and influence. Among her last recordings was a duet with Talking Heads lead vocalist David Byrne, made for the film Blue in the Face—probably an unthinkable stretch for any other mainstream Latin artist of the day.

In 1995 Selena made film and television appearances and laid plans for the release of Dreaming of You. Partly recorded in English and released in EMI's main product line, the album was considered likely to spark a crossover to the U.S. pop mainstream that would equal or exceed any other achieved by a Hispanic performer. The singer opened a pair of eponymous clothing stores in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, and a Selena-branded clothing line was also in the discussion stages. In charge of these new enterprises was the president of Selena's fan club, Yolanda Saldivar, whom Selena had hired as an executive the previous year. Saldivar's apartment was said to be a miniature Selena shrine, virtually covered with images of the singer.

Confronted Fan Club President

Both the fan club and the Selena boutiques were financially mismanaged from the start, however. Fan club members complained of undelivered merchandise and record-keeping for the growing retail enterprises was lax. Selena and her family uncovered evidence of various abuses, and Selena moved to ease Saldivar out of her position. When she went to confront Saldivar in a room in a Corpus Christi Days Inn motel on March 31, 1995, Saldivar shot her in the back with a .38-caliber handgun. The singer survived for several hours, but massive blood transfusions failed to save her life.

Saldivar claimed that the shooting had been accidental and that she had planned to kill herself, not Selena, but police discovered that when Selena and her husband had come on a similar mission the previous day, Saldivar had postponed the meeting on the pretense of having forgotten to bring the needed documents. She seemed to be waiting to meet Selena alone. According to Texas Monthly she described Selena as “the only friend I ever had.” As she struggled out of the motel room and called for help, Selena named Saldivar as the shooter, and at the trial, motel employees told of an argument followed by a gunshot and Selena's screams. Saldivar was convicted and given a life sentence.

The mourners at Selena's Corpus Christi funeral numbered more than 30,000, and fans gathered for services in several other cities as well. In San Antonio alone, two separate memorials were held. One of many manifestations of grief that appeared within the Hispanic community was a campaign to discredit the controversial talk-show host Howard Stern, who had joked about Selena's murder.


Selena became one of the many figures in American entertainment whose career loomed larger in death than it had while she was alive. Dreaming of You sold 175,000 copies on its first day of release, making its debut at number one on Billboard magazine's pop chart and eventually selling over 2,000,000 copies. The 1997 film Selena grossed an estimated $35 million domestically; directed by Gregory Nava, it also elevated Latina actress Jennifer Lopez to a new level of recognition. The year 2000 brought a touring musical about Selena's life, Selena Forever.

Selena’s life and music continued to make an impact into the twenty-first century. As of 2015, the singer had sold more than 65 million units worldwide. This made her the best-selling female artist in Latin music history. In 2017, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. More than 4,500 fans gathered for the singer’s Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in Los Angeles, California. Her songs continue to inspire her fans years after her death. Netflix aired a new biographical series, Selena: The Series which ran from December 2020 to May 2021 starring Christian Serratos as the late singer. In April of 2021, Selena was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Controversy and debate began in August of 2022 when members of Selena’s family collaborated with Warner Music Latina to create a new album of her earlier music featuring Selena’s digitally altered and aged voice. Many fans insisted that the album, Moonchild Mixes, was unnecessary, citing that there were other works in her back catalog that could have been re‐released instead, and expressed concerns over the ethics of the project. However, her father, Abraham Quintanilla, felt that the right choice had been made, stating, “We worked on her vocal track to make her sound more mature…. It’ll make you think that she recorded the songs this morning.” The Quintanilla family has since argued that the project fulfills Selena’s wishes to preserve her legacy.


Born Selena Quintanilla, April 16, 1971, in Lake Jackson, TX; died March 31, 1995, in Corpus Christi, TX; daughter of Abraham and Marcella Quintanilla; married guitarist Chris Pérez, 1992.


Began performing with siblings as Selena y Los Dinos in late 1970s; recorded for small regional labels, 1980s; signed to EMI Latin label, 1989; released debut album Selena, 1989; released Selena Live, 1993; established retail and clothing marketing venture, Selena Inc., 1994; recorded first album primarily in English, Dreaming of You, 1995.


Tejano Music Awards for best female vocalist and performer of the year, 1987; Grammy award for Best Mexican American album, 1993, for Selena Live; Grammy nomination, 1995, for Amor prohibido; Tejano Music Awards, 1995, for Song of the Year (“Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”), best female entertainer, best female vocalist, album of the year (for Amor prohibido), Tejano crossover song, and record of the year.


Selected discography

Selena, EMI Latin, 1989.

Ven conmigo, EMI Latin, 1990.

Entre a mi mundo, EMI Latin, 1992.

Selena Live, EMI Latin, 1993.

Amor prohibido, EMI Latin, 1994.

Dreaming of You, 1995, EMI.

Mis primeras grabaciones, Freddie, 1995 (early recordings).

Anthology, EMI, 1998.

All My Hits, EMI, 1999.

All My Hits, Vol. 2, EMI, 2000.

Moonchild Mixes, Warner Music Latina, 2022.



Contemporary Musicians, volume 16, Gale, 1996.

Notable Hispanic American Women, Book 2, Gale, 1998.

Patoski, Joe Nick. Selena: Como la flor. Little, Brown, 1996.

Vargas, D. R. Dissonant Divas in Chicana Music: The Limits of La Onda. U of Minnesota Press, 2012.


Billboard, May 20, 2000, p. 117.

Broadcasting & Cable, October 2, 1995, p. 23.

Entertainment Weekly, August 18, 1995, p. 18; March 26, 1999, p. 96.

Interview, April 1997, p. 50.

People, April 1, 1996, p. 110.

Texas Monthly, September 1994, p. 122; May 1995, p. 110; December 1995, p. 102.


“New Selena album ‘Moonchild Mixes’ sparks voice–aging debate,” NPR, (December 13, 2022).

“Opinion: Twenty years ago, Selena offered Hollywood a lesson it still hasn't learned,” Washington Post, (April 19, 2021).

“Selena,” AllMusic, (December 13, 2022).

“Selena Quintanilla Helped Me Learn How To Be Chicano,” Buzzfeed, (April 19, 2021).

“Selena Quintanilla’s Walk of Fame Star Ceremony Attracts Record Crowd in Hollywood,” Billboard, (January 3, 2019).

“Selena’s family received her Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award ahead of 63rd annual ceremony,” USA Today, (December 13, 2022).

“Selena taught us it's OK to be unapologetically Latina,” Our Esquina, (April 19, 2021).

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|K2429100125