Laura Canales, who paved the way for women to infiltrate the genre of Texas border music known as Tejano, died Saturday in Corpus Christ, Texas. She was 50.

Laura Canales, who paved the way for women to infiltrate the genre of Texas border music known as Tejano, died Saturday in Corpus Christ, Texas. She was 50.

Canales had been hospitalized since March 28 for a gall bladder operation. Complications including pneumonia arose after the surgery and she died Saturday, said family spokesman Javier "J.V." Villanueva, CEO of the Tejano ROOTS Hall of Fame in Alice.

"We call her the grande dame of Tejano music... The early Selena," said Wanda Reyes, spokeswoman for the Tejano Music Awards.

Canales was born to a middle-class family in Kingsville, a town known for its cattle ranching about 100 miles north of the Texas-Mexico border. She came of age just as local dance bands were mixing keyboards into the Mexican-style polka known as conjunto -- creating the Tejano sound now common at parties and festivals throughout Texas.

The young Canales' voice "knocked me off my feet," Villanueva said. "Every time there was a dance going on, Laura was known for just walking up to the stage and asking if she could sing a song. She just always had the love for it."

After graduating from high school in 1973, Canales became a guest singer for Los Unicos y El Conjunto Bernal. When the group disbanded, Canales and three former band members formed Snowball & Company, which in 1977 released an album that reached the top 10 on Billboard's Latin albums chart.

Canales took home a dozen music awards during her career, including female entertainer and female vocalist of the year. She was referred to both as the "Barbra Streisand of Tejano music" and the "queen of the Tejano wave."

While many female Tejano artists have aspirations of crossing over to English-language pop, Canales remained loyal to the Texas sound. "She's one of the few artists that have stuck to her roots," Villanueva said.

In 2000, Canales was part of the first class of inductees into the Tejano ROOTS Hall of Fame.


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