What do Beyoncé, Demi Lovato, Kacey Musgraves and Eva Longoria have in common? They were all inspired or influenced by the American singer, songwriter and queen of Tejano: Selena.
The extent of the late performer’s influence extends beyond Texas, but it’s those who were there in the beginning that recall moments like she was family. Local TV journalists, a radio DJ and the singer in a Selena tribute band share recollections of Selena or how she touched their lives as her birthday approaches.
Selena would have turned 50 on April 16.
Her career kicked off in 1980 performing in her dad’s restaurant with her brother Abraham Quintanilla on bass and her sister Suzette Quintanilla on drums. Eventually they would hit the road touring when the restaurant permanently closed due to the recession.
“When they got started, they were just trying to make it,” said Jojo Herrera, a former DJ at KXTN 107.5 FM. “It was hard being a female.”
Herrera knew Selena since she was 9 years old. He was in radio for 30-plus years and witnessed Selena morph into a Tejano sensation.
“She was real friendly,” Herrera said. “She was like a little kid at heart.”
Selena was 15 when she won the Tejano Music Awards for female vocalist and performer of the year in 1987. She would go on to release six successful albums including her 1994 Grammy nominated album “Amor Prohibido.”
Although she sang in Spanish, Selena ironically was unfamiliar with the language and took lessons to promote her albums. She was a role model for the Latino community, and her influence stretched across Texas into other states and countries.
“Selena was the first person I saw on television who looked like she could be related to me,” said Stephanie Bergara, singer and founder of the music group Bidi Bidi Banda, a Selena tribute band based in Austin that formed in 2014.
“The intention was to do Bidi Bidi Banda one time for a kickoff party for a festival: seven years later, post pandemic, post baby, we’re still playing,” Bergara said.
In the beginning, Bergara put in work to make sure her costumes were accurate to what Selena wore, and used hair spray paint to dye her bleached blonde hair black to match Selena. A year into the group she ditched the costumes and made her own way.
“She was so unique and so different; she worked really hard to set herself apart,” Bergara said of how Selena inspires her. “She inspired me to make my own way.”
Selena was on the verge of becoming a crossover sensation and was referred to as the “Mexican Madonna.” The performer inspired Latina women and girls.
“When you don’t see people on television who look like you doing the things you want to do, it makes it seem like it’s unattainable,” Bergara said. “She was a direct inspiration; if she could do it, I could do it.”
David Villarreal worked at KENS 5 as a cameraman and producer when he witnessed the rise of and the untimely death of the Tejano star.
“I was given an all-access pass to record her at the Poteet Festival in 1992,” Villarreal said of the first time he met Selena. “It was an eye opener to be at that concert and see all that energy.”
He produced a five-part series and an hour-long documentary called “The Tejano Music Explosion.”
Villarreal received backstage access from record companies to document the music movement.
“It was an eye-opener for me to be at that concert, to see all that and the production that went into that event and what she did on stage,” said Villarreal. “I knew she was onto something big.”
The quick rise of Selena would come to a sudden end. She was murdered on March 31, 1995, by Yolanda Saldivar, former manager of Selena Etc. Boutiques and founder of the Selena fan club.
KENS 5 journalist Sue Calberg recalled how a news producer reacted when he received the news Selena was shot.
“(The news producer) couldn’t believe what he was hearing that Selena had been shot,” Calberg said. “Not long after that in a room about 50 phones, all of the phones were ringing.”
“Candlelight vigil doesn’t begin to describe what happened in this town in the days after her death,” said Calberg, who has 42 years of experience in journalism. “It was so shocking that it (her death) took time to sink in – people didn’t want to believe it.”
“The trial too was an international event; media came from everywhere,” said Calberg. “They kind of had to have a lottery system for who actually got in because the press pool was so big.”
Villarreal said what everyone thinks but acknowledges a hard truth.
“Who knows how much way further she would have gone,” Villarreal said. “Unfortunately, she didn’t get the chance but there was no doubt that she was going to be huge.”