Death didn’t minimize Selena’s appeal, and over the years, her popularity has continued unabated.
A charismatic performer who possessed a distinctive voice -- both husky and sweet -- and was intuitively aware of the requirements of stardom (she designed all her outfits, including those now-legendary bustiers, and choreographed all her dance moves), Selena had been able to push Tejano music into mainstream awareness. With only two years of a major recording contract under her belt, she’d placed five No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks chart and a No. 1 debut album -- “Amor Prohibido” -- on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart.
Because she was a homegrown star, she was widely recognized both by Latin and non-Latin fans. In a world of telegenic, imported Latin pop stars, Selena was an anomaly; bilingual and bicultural, she not only looked like her fans, she was like them; Selena Gomez, in fact, born in 1992, has said she was named after Selena Quintanilla.
Selena was shot in the back by Yolanda Saldivar, president of her fan club, as she left a Days Inn Motel on March 31, 1995. While Saldivar is serving a life sentence, Selena’s legacy has remained very much alive.
In the two decades since, flowers and devotees 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. Two posthumous singles have made it to No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs.
On March 31, 1995, Selena was slated to record in English. The month before, she’d picked up her first Grammy award on national television, and her crossover album was almost done.
Dreaming of You wasn’t released until almost five months after her death, but it still debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Chart, a first for Latin female act. Ironically, only Jennifer López would equal this feat, years later, after her role in the film “Selena” jump-started her singing career.
The film, which was released 20 years ago today, continues to air like clockwork on the anniversary of Quitanilla’s death.
“She had a sense of living in the moment, living in the present and following her heart,” Lopez tells Billboard on the anniversary of Quintanilla’s death. “For me that was the biggest lesson [of playing her]."
Death didn’t minimize Selena’s appeal, and over the years, her popularity has continued unabated, even though unlike other fallen stars, like Tupac, she left no catalog of unreleased material behind. Instead, myriad compilations have continued to populate the charts. This insatiable hunger for Selena’s voice, for her songs, has prompted endless searches for “the next Selena," in vain.
“People like that don't come along every day,” said Jennifer Lopez. “That's why we're still talking about her 20 years later.”