Sudden, tragic death has the bittersweet effect of turning stars into icons and younger stars into legends. Selena Quintanilla was already on her way to becoming both when she was shot dead on March 31, 1995. Twenty-one years after her death, we look at 15 key moments in a brief, but stunning life whose legacy continues to impact thousands around the world.
In 1987, Selena Quintanilla won female vocalist of the year at the Tejano Music Awards for the first time. She would go on to win a total of 11 times -- a record that has never been broken. The charismatic performer who possessed a distinctive voice -- both husky and sweet -- was intuitively aware of the requirements of stardom. She designed all her outfits (including those now-legendary bustiers) and choreographed all her dance moves.
From an early age, Selena toured Texas with Los Dinos, the band created by her father, Abraham Quintanilla, which included her sister Suzette on drums and brother A.B. Quintanilla (who wrote most of her hits) on bass. “It’s the American dream, to take nothing and make it into something,” A.B. told Billboard about his sister’s enduring appeal.
Ven Conmigo, Selena’s second album with Los Dinos, was her first to be certified gold by the RIAA. The 1990 album would eventually receive double platinum certification.
Love of Her Life
Selena married Chris Perez, her band’s guitar player, on April 2, 1992. "You can just generally feel her vibe, the good person that she was, the smile she always had for anybody," he told Billboard about his late wife. "She definitely had that 'It' factor which hasn’t been figured out yet. All of that put together, I think that’s the reason that she’s still relevant."
First No. 1
“Buenos Amigos,” Selena’s duet with crooner Alvaro Torres, became her first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, debuting at No. 30 and climbing to No. 1 on June 6, 1992.
Selena opened up her first boutique and beauty salon, Selena Etc., in her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1994. She would open a second one in San Antonio.
“Amor Prohibido,” a song about forbidden love, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart on June 11, 1994, where it spent nine weeks. The album of the same name spent 20 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart.
Selena and Selena
“Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” became Selena’s fourth No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart on Oct. 22, 1994. The catchy, danceable cumbia would be remixed 18 years later as a duet with another Selena -- Selena Gomez.
Selena performed for the third and last time at the Houston Astrodome on Feb. 26, 1995. This show was a massive event, with 61,000 people in attendance.
Selena earned her first Grammy nomination for Selena Live!, which went on to win best Mexican-American album at the March 1, 1995 ceremony. "Thank you for having faith in me," she said at the awards.
On March 31, 1995, Selena was shot in the back by Yolanda Saldivar, president of her fan club, as she left a Days Inn motel. While Saldivar is serving a life sentence, Selena’s legacy has remained very much alive. In the two decades since, flowers and devotees (like those mourning outside her Corpus Christi home the day after her death) have continued to flow into Corpus Christi and fans have continued to purchase her music with surprising regularity: Six Selena albums have gone to No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart since her death, the most recent in 2012.
'Dreaming of You'
Dreaming of You, Selena’s posthumous English-language debut, entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1 on Aug. 5, 1995, the first album by a female Latin act to do so. The album also debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart, where it stayed for 44 weeks.
Big Screen Tribute
The biopic Selena, starring up-and-coming star Jennifer Lopez, opened on March 21, 1997. “The grace with which she handled the business, the grace with which she handled her life, the humor. Her spirit of loving what she did. Her sense of family. All of that was what really affected me in my life far more profoundly than a career move,” Lopez told Billboard.
Following In Her Footsteps
Major music stars including Selena Gomez, Beyonce and Demi Lovato have cited Selena’s influence on their lives. "She was a big deal to my family and growing up from the get-go, I knew who she was and who I was named after," Gomez has said. "I got to visit her grave. It’s such a honor to be named after someone so amazing.”
Selena’s posthumous releases have continued to have huge chart success. Enamorada de Ti, which was released on April 21, 2012 and paired her vocals with those of several singers, including Christian Castro and Selena Gomez, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart.