The March 31, 1995 shooting death of Selena Quintanilla-Perez shocked Latino music listeners and plunged the community into a mourning that is still felt now, 20 years later.
“People perceived her as a down-to-earth person, everything about her was sincere and honest,” her father Abraham Quintanilla told Fox News Latino in a phone interview recently. “It was not just the talent. People loved her — they loved her singing, her natural talent.”
Selena started singing around the age of 6 — “she had a strong voice, a good ear,” her father said.
As a way to bond with his kids, Quintanilla created a band with Selena, her brother A.B. on the bass and her sister Suzette on the drums.
“It was just a challenge and it worked,” the 76-year-old said. “We had a little trouble to get them interested, but when they learned their first song, that’s when it changed.”
They started playing in the family’s Tex-Mex restaurant in Lake Jackson, Texas, where Selena y los Dinos was born.
“They dreamed, ate and slept music,” Quintanilla said. “I didn’t know (it would be a career), they had the talent and the wheels started rolling.”
Although the male-dominated Tejano music genre pushed back against Selena y los Dinos, the family broke through all the barriers, with Selena eventually taking home the Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year — at 15 years old. She would go on to win eight consecutive years.
But it wasn’t until Selena y los Dinos signed with Capitol EMI Latin in 1989 that their status was propelled into the Anglo market.
“It was a thrill,” said Quintanilla.
In 1994, Selena won a Grammy for best Mexican-American album for “Selena Live!” and she seemed poised for mainstream stardom.
But everything stopped in its tracks when the president of the official Selena fan club Yolanda Saldivar shot her to death the following year in a Texas motel.
Selena Quintanilla and Yolanda Saldivar. (AP)
Selena was 23 years old and only months away from the release of her first English-language album.
“She only recorded four songs for the album, we had to scramble to fill it with songs she had recorded years before,” Quintanilla said.
Selena’s death made international headlines and her funeral drew more than 60,000 mourners to Corpus Christi.
Twenty years later, her spirit and influence is still being felt.
“It’s beyond what I ever imagined,” her father said. “People still remember Selena, her music and the movie blasted us worldwide.”
Quintanilla said he wanted to do a film about his family because he felt that the world needed to know about his daughter and the family's journey into the music business.
“Selena” was released in 1997, starring veteran actor Edward James Olmos and newcomer Jennifer Lopez.
Lopez, 45, recently spoke to Billboard about playing the now iconic role and Selena’s legacy.
“There is never going to be another Selena,” she said. “And as far as music goes, that’s what’s beautiful about artistry… It’s a special thing that Selena had. That’s why we’re still talking about her 20 years later.”
Lopez, who recalled being moved by Selena's home videos while preparing for the role, said it was the grace with which she handled the business, her life and her humor what made her so special and why she is still loved today.
“Her spirit of loving what she did. Her sense of family. That's the tragedy of everything that happened and why she left such an imprint — because she was gone way too soon,” she said.
Fans make the trek to her hometown of Corpus Christi every year to pay their respects. This year the city is hosting the Fiesta de la Flor in mid-April in her honor.
It will include performances and appearances by A.B. Quintanilla y los Kumbia Kings All Star and Chris Perez (Selena’s widower).
“I wasn’t going to do anything (for the anniversary),” Quintanilla said. “The city approached me to do something and they are doing it all.”
He continued: “Selena has become such an attraction for Corpus Christi. I gave them the OK. It’s going to be more people than what they thought.”