Obituary: Selena

The Texan singer Selena, who was shot dead in her home town of Corpus Christi, was the latest and some felt potentially the biggest star of the increasingly important Latin side of the pop music world in the United States. Her first English- language album, of which she had completed four songs when she died, was expected by her record company to spread her fame to Anglophone listeners, at home and abroad.

Selena's home territory was the southern Gulf coast of Texas next to Mexico, and the collective cultural memory includes the old Corridos - songs of the exploits of the bandits, revolutionaries and cowboys of the turn of the century. The musical landscape includes the rocking accordion- led polkas and waltzes played in the cantinas and on the open-air stages, known to Texans as "conjunto" music, and to Mexicans as "nortena". Trademark features from this working-class genre, primarily the accordion, were incorporated by ballroom bandleaders into a smoother blend that became known as "tejano" music. By the time Selena was born, in 1971, a surge of popularity in Tejano was under way.

Corpus Christi is known for fierce winds, petroleum, cattle ranching, and, latterly, as a holiday resort and entertainment centre. Selena's introduction to music took place at the age of nine, in a showband run by her father, Abraham Quintanilla, and her group Los Dinos and her career continued to centre round her family. Her brother A.B. Quintanilla played bass, wrote and produced many of her hits; her sister Suzette was drummer; her husband, Chris Perez, was guitarist; and her father's assiduous management was generally regarded as the key to her success. By 1984 the group was a sophisticated multi-truck touring circus with sponsorship from Coca-Cola. Five years later, as Los Dinos polished their sound, and incorporated more of the Colombian "cumbia" dance rhythm sweeping Mexico, their records began to sell on a national scale.

In June last year, Selena's 12th album, Amor Prohibido ("Forbidden Love"), deposed from its 48-week run at the top of Billboard magazine's Latin Top 50 the Miami Cuban star Gloria Estefan's album Mi Tierra, and Selena was often talked off as Estefan's successor, as well as the Latin Madonna, for her dynamic performances. Her fame was as great in Mexico as in the US, and she was one of the few non-Mexican artistes to have earned the ultimate accolade for pop stars - cameo roles written into Mexico's avidly followed telenovella TV soaps.

Days before her death, Selena headlined "Go Tejano Day" at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, her natural habitat, in front of a record 61,000 audience, and the Houston Post reporter, while admiring her "purple spangled jump suit with swingy bell-bottoms", and "sultry, high-energy" performance, remarked, "You still sense there's a girl up there having a good time, even with the crack band and slinky choreography."

Selena's business interests included a boutique and beauty salon in Corpus Christi, latterly managed by Yolanda Saldivar, an ex-nurse and founder of her fan club. Selena had fired Saldivar for embezzlement, and on 31 March went to a motel to meet her former employee to ask for bank documents. She was shot on leaving and Saldivar, arrested after a nine-hour siege, was arrested under suspicion of her murder. Thirty thousand people filed past the singer's coffin as it lay in state, before a funeral at which 8,000 white roses were heaped on her grave. Texas takes its music seriously, and the State Governor, George Bush Jnr, employs among his administrators a Mr Casey Monahan, Director of the Texas Music Office. "For many, Selena was Tejano, defining its present and pushing its future," Monahan commented from the Governor's office.

Philip Sweeney

Selena Quintanilla, singer: born 16 April 1971; married Chris Perez; died Corpus Christi, Texas 31 March 1995.

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