Posted: Friday, April 25, 2014 7:00 am
Every year on March 31 and April 16, you can be sure of one thing — your social media feed is going to be buzzing about Selena Quintanilla. As you scroll down your Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr page, your friends are going to be posting her appearances on The Johnny Canales Show, various online memes, photographs and many of her memorable Tejano hits.
It has been 19 years since Selena was murdered on March 31, 1995, by Yolanda Saldívar, the president of her fan club. Fans remember what Selena, the “Queen of Tejano music,” contributed to the genre and to those who loved her on the anniversary of her death. And on April 16, they celebrate her life, long after her tragic death.
Thirteen-year-old Selena already had an eye for fashion, said television host Johnny Canales. She and her group, Los Dinos, bought white jumpsuits for their debut in 1985 on The Johnny Canales Show. They laid the suits on the ground, dipped paint brushes into fluorescent paint and splattered their white canvases with the loud, bright colors. It was a look meant to make an impression on viewers.
Selena chose guitar-shaped earrings to wear with her first outfit — the second set of clothes was a bit more understated and “dressy,” as she described them.
When Canales had his own orchestra, he played some events with Abraham Quintanilla Jr. and Los Dinos, so he was already familiar with the Quintanilla family, and had heard the local buzz about the young, talented Selena. It wasn’t until her first appearance on the show that he met her.
“‘Oh Mama,’ aqui esta,” Canales said as he introduced Selena to his large television audience at the KVEO-TV studios in Brownsville.
Selena and Los Dinos performed and lip-synced to Ruben Armando’s “Oh Mama,” a song that Selena had just released on an album titled The New Girl In Town that year. The lip-syncing was done for audio-quality purposes, and every artist that made an appearance there would do the same, Canales said.
“I saw a little spark in her, she had something that just certain people got,” the host said.
Following that first performance, Canales approached Selena for an interview. He asked her in Spanish about the paint job on their white suits. Selena responded in English.
“Y la gente que los esta escuchando en Mexico? (And for the people that are listening to us in Mexico?)” he urged.
“Los pintaron?” Selena responded, slightly confused.
They both had a big laugh about her bad Spanish.
“She told me, ‘You know what, I’m going to learn how to speak Spanish,’” Canales remembers. “Ten years later, when she was almost 23 years old, I interviewed her, in what now is called the Selena Auditorium in Corpus. Interview was totally in Spanish. That’s why I think she was big, because everything she wanted to do, she would do it.”
Selena became a frequent guest on Canales’ program and the singer and host developed a playful rapport.
Before one of her earlier performances on the show, Canales stood backstage with Selena and asked if she was ready to go on stage.
He asked again, emphasizing he planned to make a big presentation for her. Big!
Again, she said she was ready.
As Canales walked away, he blurted out, “Just take that little piece of bean that you have between your teeth out.” There was nothing actually there; it was just Canales messing around, as he often did with his guests.
Selena’s eyes widened. Her tongue started working its way around her mouth and teeth.
Canales walked out on stage while Selena continued trying to find the stuck piece of food.
“Aqui esta Selena!” Canales roared.
Selena walked on stage still trying to find this bean in her teeth. Finally, Canales finally leaned close and confessed to her it was just a joke.
“Nombre, si no se acaba los dientes, (If I didn’t tell her, she would have finished her teeth),” Canales said, laughing. “We used to play that way.”
In 1988, La Mafia was a tejano powerhouse. So when 15-year-old Cande Aguilar Jr. was offered the opportunity to perform with the group during a summer tour, he eagerly accepted.
One of the first shows was at a venue in Brownsville, Aguilar’s hometown.
Aguilar strapped his black Gabbanelli accordion across his chest and took his spot on stage with the band. While playing, the teen noticed a couple of sisters in the front row.
Once the baile was over, the pair of sisters introduced themselves to Aguilar.
“At that time, I didn’t know who she was,” Aguilar said.
Twenty-year-old Suzette Quintanilla and 17-year-old Selena Quintanilla complimented the accordionist’s skills.
It was soon announced that Selena y Los Dinos would be the opening act for Oscar de la Rosa’s band, La Mafia, for the summer tour. Aguilar had a front row seat as he watched Selena perform each night and gain popularity.
“Nombre, once you saw her, ya, that was it,” Aguilar said. “You kind of had to keep up with her. You wouldn’t forget her. Ya no se te olvidaba.”
Before a show in Victoria, Texas, the two young artists were hanging out backstage. Selena began her warm-ups to prepare for her show that evening.
She began twirling, spinning at a rapid speed, Aguilar said, and then put two of her fingers on his shoulder to slow her momentum. She repeated the process over and over again, working toward perfection as Aguilar stood by her side.
“I remember that so clearly,” Aguilar reflects. “That was magical, it was a beautiful moment, beautiful experience to actually have her dancing literally right in front of my eyes.”
Tejano was on the brink of entering its golden era.
“It was quite a moment,” Aguilar said. “Knowing that with those moves, she conquered the world.”
The Porsche or the Opposite of ‘La Carcacha’
In the early ’90s, Tejano was huge, and Selena was no longer an opening act for other stars. Now she needed an opening act for her own tour.
At a pre-party for the 1991 installment of the Tejano Music Awards, Carlito Miranda Jr. ran into A.B. Quintanilla.
Once Quintanilla heard Miranda sing, it wasn’t long before they were hammering out the details of adding Carlito Miranda Jr. y Grupo Metal to warm up the stage for Selena y Los Dinos.
For three years, Miranda and his band toured with the Quintanilla family. They were even allowed to use the famous “Big Bertha” bus, a 1964 Silver Eagle bus in which Selena toured for many years.
“They had a new bus,” Miranda said. “We were pretty much like a big family. For those amount of years, I learned a lot being there.”
The two bands traveled throughout the Southwestern states on tour.
Miranda recalls a stop at a nightclub called Monopoly’s in Dallas. He received a message that Selena wanted to see him — she wanted to talk to him about his upcoming album.
“I want to help you on it, vocally,” Selena said, according to Miranda.
He said he was more than willing to receive any help she wanted to give.
“She was always willing to help,” Miranda said. “She knew how close me and Chris (Perez) were. Me and Chris go way back, before the Dinos.”
Miranda recalled how trusting Selena was with her friends and family.
At one gig, Selena realized she needed some eggs and asked Miranda to run the errand for her.
“I don’t have a car,” he told her.
Selena had just bought a brand new Porsche and tossed the keys to Miranda without hesitation.
“She was that cool,” Miranda said.
The keys flew toward Miranda as if in slow motion.
“I just thought to myself, I better not wreck this car,” Miranda said with a laugh. “Hell yeah, I was nervous. I wanted to find the nearest store so I wouldn’t have to drive so far.”
He returned without a single mark on the car or eggs and all that ran through his mind as he turned off the ignition was, “Thank God!”
Although he doesn’t talk much about those days since Selena died, he does have clear memories of her and those years when he catches a song of hers on the radio.
“When I hear (a song), I can just close my eyes and go back in that time,” he said. “I can visualize and see everything the way it was.”
Dreaming Of You (Literally)
As one of the hosts of Puro Tejano, TV and radio show host Mando San Roman stood tall, windswept in the middle of the Tejano whirlwind in the 1990s. He would often be in attendance for most of the top shows in the Valley. There are a couple of memories of Selena that stand out for him.
Selena was scheduled to perform in front of a packed house in Harlingen. As she sat in the backstage area, people in her close circle debated whether she should even be there. She was very ill, struggling just to talk. They asked her what she wanted to do.
“I have to go up there and sing,” Selena responded, according to San Roman.
Her entourage was hesitant but they allowed her to go out on stage with one condition. They advised her to go immediately to her bus after her performance was over.
“You know what, she got up there, she sang her lungs out, dancing como si nada,” San Roman said. “She gets off stage, and instead of going to the bus, she started going down the line, along the fence, shaking everybody’s hand.”
Selena’s handlers insisted she return to her bus.
“No, no,” she said. “I need to go say hi to my fans.”
Another memory the local DJ and host shared involved an interview he had scheduled with Selena and a very vivid dream.
In this romantic vision, San Roman said there was a strong mutual attraction between Selena and himself.
“I got nervous, pos she is pretty,” San Roman said, laughing. “I had never seen her like that, I always looked at her as a friend.”
San Roman was waiting at the KIWW FM 96.1 studio and couldn’t get the dream out of his head. After a sound check at La Villa Real, James Echavarria (a.k.a. Rock ‘n’ Roll James) drove Selena over to the studio in a car without air conditioning.
“Vinieron todos sudados (They arrived all sweaty),” San Roman said. “She was cool with it.”
San Roman wasn’t himself as he conducted the interview. He had never had difficulty before when interviewing Selena. As he finished the interview, he said he felt comfortable enough with her to confess why he was acting odd.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe that,” Selena said, laughing, after hearing about his dream.
“I know, pretty freaky,” San Roman said, also laughing.
Later that night, the two met up again on stage at La Villa Real. San Roman and Echavarria presented Selena with an award that honored her record sales and contributions to Tejano music.
“She touched so many lives,” San Roman said. “That was the last time I saw her.”