Selena Quintanilla: The Life and Legacy of the “Queen of Tejano Music”

selena quintanilla smiles at the camera and holds her grammy award, she wears a sparkling gown and large sparkling earrings
Selena QuintanillaGetty Images
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Who Was Selena Quintanilla?

Selena Quintanilla made her recording debut in the 1980s and became a best-selling artist in the Latin music scene with albums like Amor Prohibido and Live! The latter earned her the Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album in 1994, making her the first female Tejano artist to win the award. Tragically, just shy of her 24th birthday, Selena was murdered by her fan club’s president and business associate in March 1995. Her album Dreaming of You was released later that year and topped the Billboard 200 chart—the first predominantly Spanish-language album to do so. Jennifer Lopez portrayed the late singer in a 1997 biopic.

🎵 Listen to her greatest hits or 🎥 watch Selena on Amazon.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Selena Quintanilla Pérez
BORN: April 16, 1971
DIED: March 31, 1995
BIRTHPLACE: Lake Jackson, Texas
SPOUSE: Chris Pérez (1992-1995)

Early Life and Family

Selena Quintanilla, often known simply by her stage name Selena, was born on April 16, 1971, in Lake Jackson, Texas. Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., was a former musician. Her mother, Marcella Ofelia Samora, was a homemaker. The couple had two older children and eventually opened a restaurant.

Selena grew up speaking English, but her father taught her to sing in Spanish so she could resonate with the Latino community. She learned the lyrics phonetically at first and, eventually, learned to speak Spanish fluently. She began performing as a child.

Around the age of 10, Selena became the lead singer in her family’s band, Selena Y Los Dinos. The musical group started out playing weddings and clubs in their native Texas. Abraham managed and produced his family’s group, which also featured Selena’s brother, Abraham III (known professionally as “A.B.” Quintanilla III), on bass guitar and her sister, Suzette, on the drums. Their Tejano music style incorporated Mexican music, country, and western.

Selena y Los Dinos Albums

The Quintanilla family, with Selena as the lead singer, recorded seven albums together as Selena Y Los Dinos. Most were recorded under indie labels. Alpha and And the Winner Is… were produced by Manny Guerra of G.P. Productions, which specialized in Tejano music. Dulce Amor, with original songs written by her brother, brought Selena to the attention of the Latin music world.

The seven albums are:

  • Mis Primeras Grabaciones (1984)

  • The New Girl In Town (1985)

  • Alpha (1986)

  • Muñequito de Trapo (1986)

  • And the Winner Is... (1987)

  • Preciosa (1988)

  • Dulce Amor (1988)

Solo Career: Albums, Songs, and Grammy

Selena was known as much for her onstage style as for her songs.Getty Images

Music executive José Behar, who had just opened the Latin division of EMI Records, watched Selena perform at the 1989 Tejano Music Awards. Soon after the concert, he signed Selena as a solo artist to the EMI label. She released her self-titled album that year.

Her brother, A.B., who later founded the Kumbia Kings and Kumbia All Starz, wrote many of her songs and was also her producer. Between 1989 and 1995, Selena released five studio albums and one live album. In 2022, her family backed a new album featuring old recordings that were never released. With more than 65 million albums sold, the “Queen of Tejano” remains one of the best-selling female Latin artists.

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Popular compilation albums of Selena’s music include 12 Super Exitos (1994) and All My Hits Todos Mis Exitos (1999).

Popular Songs

Selena saw seven songs hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, with 14 more songs ranking in the top 10. “Tu Solo Tu” topped the chart for 10 weeks, and “Amor Prohibido” earned No. 1 for nine weeks. “No Me Queda Mas,” “Fotos Y Recuerdos (Back On The Chain Gang),” and “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” were among Selena’s other hits that led the Hot Latin Songs chart.

Arguably Selena’s most successful song, “Dreaming of You” peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Other popular songs by Selena include “Como La Flor,” “Baila Esta Cumbia,” “La Carcacha,” “El Chico del Apartamento 512,” “I Could Fall In Love,” and “Siempre Hace Frio.”

Grammy and Other Awards

At the 1987 Tejano Music Awards, Selena won Best Female Vocalist of the Year and Performer of the Year. She was sometimes referred to as the “Mexican Madonna” for her hot outfits and dance moves. Eventually, her talents were recognized by more than just Tejano music fans.

In 1993, Selena won a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album for her album Live! She was posthumously awarded the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2021 Grammy Awards.

Latin Music Icon: Spokesperson, Boutique Owner, and Actor

Because of her broad appeal to Latin audiences, Coca-Cola chose Selena as a spokesperson in 1989. Her appearance in ads for Coke was a marketing industry first: an advertiser targeting a specific demographic.

Expanding her personal brand beyond her music career, in 1994, Selena opened two boutiques called Selena Etc., where she sold her signature line of clothing and jewelry. The stores were located in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Texas.

She also had a brief career as an actor, appearing as a mariachi singer in the 1995 movie Don Juan DeMarco, also starring Johnny Depp.


mac selena world premiere, corpus christi tx press conference and media welcome
Chris Perez, seen here in 2016, was married to Selena for three years.Getty Images

Selena married Chris Pérez on April 2, 1992. The couple met and began secretly dating in 1990 when Pérez joined Selena’s band as the lead guitarist. They were married for nearly three years before Selena was killed in 1995.

Pérez wrote a book about his time with Selena, To Selena, With Love, published in 2012. He planned to make the book into a TV series. Then, in 2016, Abraham brought a lawsuit against Pérez for violating an estate agreement that Pérez signed shortly after the singer’s death that gave her father the exclusive rights to Selena’s name, voice, photographs, and story in perpetuity. Pérez lost his appeal in late 2018, and both sides agreed to dismiss the lawsuit the following May.

Death: Murder Details and Killer

Selena was shot and killed by Yolanda Saldívar in Corpus Christi, Texas, on March 31, 1995. She was 23 years old. Selena’s murder sent shockwaves through the Latino community, and her fans around the world mourned the singer’s passing.

After attending one of Selena’s concerts, Saldívar encouraged Abraham to create a fan club for his daughter. The former nurse, who became the club’s president, had also been managing Selena’s boutique in San Antonio. The two were meeting in a hotel room to discuss Selena’s concerns that Saldívar was embezzling money, according to court records, when Saldívar, 34, shot Selena. Saldívar surrendered to the police later that day.

During her October 1995 trial, Saldívar claimed the shot was accidental, but she was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Currently, she is serving time in a maximum-security prison outside of Dallas. Saldívar is up for parole in 2025, which will be 30 years after Selena’s death.

Movie and Netflix Series

Selena’s life story became the subject of the 1997 movie Selena, which stars Jennifer Lopez as the Tejano superstar and Edward James Olmos as her father. Lopez became the first Latina actor to take home $1 million for a movie role, and she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance. The movie was re-released in theaters in April 2022 to mark its 25th anniversary.

Decades later, Netflix announced it was developing a scripted series about the singer’s life, with the Quintanilla family serving as executive producers. Selena: The Series, starring The Walking Dead’s Christian Serratos, debuted in December 2020.


chris perez, ab quintanilla iii, suzette quintanilla, marcella samora, and abraham quintanilla jr pose for a photo as they kneel and stand behind a star bearing selena quintanillas name
Chris Perez, A.B. Quintanilla III, Suzette Quintanilla, Marcella Samora, and Abraham Quintanilla Jr. attend the 2017 ceremony unveiling Selena’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Getty Images

Selena’s music and persona has endured through the years, with honorary holidays, posthumous awards, a museum, and even a college course.

Two weeks after her death in 1995, then–Texas Governor George W. Bush declared the singer’s April 16th birthday “Selena Day.”

The Selena Museum, opened in 1998 by the Quintanilla family in Corpus Christi, Texas, honors Selena’s life and legacy. A collection of the late performer’s personal items, such as her wardrobe, awards and memorabilia, a recreation of her recording studio, her red Porsche, and her tour bus are on display.

She was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in November 2017. That year, reality star Kim Kardashian also dressed up as the Tejano singer as part of her homage to music legends for Halloween. In March 2020, Selena became the first Latina artist and the ninth person overall to be inducted into the Star Trail of Fame outside the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The 25th anniversary of Selena’s death in 2020 brought more remembrances and proved the popularity of her music hasn’t waned. Contemporary artists like Casey Musgraves and Camila Cabello covered Selena in concerts that year. Elsewhere, MAC Cosmetics released a limited-edition “MAC Cosmetics x Selena La Reina” collection in April, featuring a range of products, including Selena’s signature red lipstick, with shade names derived from her song lyrics. Their first Selena collection, in 2016, sold out within minutes.

Selena was known as much for her onstage style as her songs, and in 2022, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History added the black leather jacket and satin bustier she wore at the 1994 Tejano Music Awards to their “Entertainment Nation”/“Nación del espectáculo” exhibit.


  • If you try to come off as this big-time star with an attitude, people don’t like that.

  • Saying that you’re a star is like saying you’re a freak.

  • I didn’t even start taking this seriously until I was older, when I was about 15, when I was actually winning the awards.

  • When love hits you, it hits you, and you don’t expect it.

  • I’m not one to say this is where I want to be in five years, because each day is different. You can plan a whole day, and nothing comes out the way you plan it.

  • When I am singing, I believe that if I respect the public, then they will respect me, and I know it. It’s noticeable.

  • Wearing the bras on stage shocked everybody, and that’s probably why I got branded for the bra.

  • There’s a lot of men in this business. If you can’t speak for yourself, they are going to run you down every which way.

  • When a child does bad things, the parents are always going to love their child even if they do something bad.

  • Even though I was a girl and I lost some of my childhood, it was for a good cause.

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