‘Selena’ 20th Anniversary: Celebrating the ‘Queen of Tejano Music’

'Selena,' the biopic starring Jennifer Lopez as the Tejano superstar, was released today in 1997. Here's a look back at the popular film and the late music legend.
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Jennifer Lopez in 'Selena'

Jennifer Lopez's Golden Globe-nominated performance in 'Selena' helped launch her career. She credits Selena as one of her musical influences and a singular talent: “There is never going to be another Selena. It's a special thing that Selena had."

It’s been 20 years since Jennifer Lopez starred in her breakout lead role as the title character in Selena. The 1997 movie depicts singer Selena Quintanilla Perez—known simply by her first name—from her early days as a child singer until her untimely death as she was poised to achieve crossover success. The film ranks as the 11th highest grossing biopic of all time. 

On March 31, 1995, Selena met with the former president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldivar, who had been caught embezzling money. Saldivar shot and killed Selena at a motel in Corpus Christi, Texas. Though Selena was only 23 years old at the time of her death, she accomplished a tremendous amount in her short life, which her fans continue to celebrate to this day. Here are some noteworthy facts about this young legend. 

She Made (and Keeps Making) Musical History 

In 1987 at the Tejano Music Awards, Selena won both Best Female Vocalist of the Year and Performer of the Year. Her 1990 album, Ven Conmigo, sold more than 500,000 copies, making it the first Tejano record to achieve gold record status. She won the Grammy Award (for best Mexican-American album) in 1994 for her album Live. In the same year, Amor Prohibido went gold. She had five No. 1 singles on Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks chart and a Billboard 200 No. 1 with her fifth and final studio LP, Dreaming of You—a first for a Latin female act. Her first English-language album, Dreaming of You also has the distinction of being the fastest-selling album by a female artist in pop history. The album sold more than 400,000 copies in its first week. Plus, six of her releases have gone to No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart since her death, the most recent in 2012. 

Spanish Was Her Second Language

Though she became famous for singing in Spanish, Selena was born and brought up in Texas, and her first language was English. Her father encouraged her to sing in Spanish in order to widen her appeal in the Mexican-American community. Selena learned the words phonetically initially before she learned to speak Spanish fluently.

She Had Two Nicknames

Despite her young age, Selena was widely known as the Queen of Tejano because she was the main performer of the genre at that time, and she broadened its appeal among more mainstream musical audiences. But her commanding stage presence, distinctive clothing style and sexy dance moves also drew comparisons to Madonna, which prompted many in the media to call Selena “the Mexican Madonna.” 

Selena at the 1994 Grammy

Selena at the 1994 Grammy Awards in New York City. 

She Has Her Own Day and Her Own Museum 

Shortly after her death, George W. Bush, who was governor of Texas at the time, decreed that April 16, the singer’s birthday, would be Selena Day. Celebrations take place annually in commemoration of her birthday. There is also a museum in Corpus Christi, Texas, which houses details of her life and musical achievements and holds her beloved clothes and extensive shoe collection, her red Porsche and her amazing collection of more than 500 Faberge eggs in the same display cases she had set up in her home.

Selena Continues to Inspire Contemporary Singers

While Selena had a huge impact on the popularity of Tejano music, artists such as Becky G, Kat DeLuna and Jennifer Lopez name her as their main musical influence. Lopez acknowledges that Selena inspired her to launch her own solo music career but is adamant that there will be no "next Selena." In a 2015 interview with Billboard.com, Lopez said: “There is never going to be another Selena. It's a special thing that Selena had. That's why we're still talking about her 20 years later.”

On the 20th anniversary of Selena’s death in 2015, Lopez participated in a poignant tribute to her at the Billboard Latin Music Awards by performing a medley of her songs, including "Como La Flor," "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom," "Amor Prohibido," "I Could Fall in Love" and "No Me Queda Mas." She wore a variety of costumes reminiscent of Selena's flamboyant stage fashion, and used some of the late star's dance moves. She ended her set side-by-side with the Quintanilla family, including Selena's sister Suzette and brother A.B., who were part of Selena’s band, Los Dinos.

A month later, on April 17 and 18, two days after what would have been her 44th birthday, Selena's family created the now annual Fiesta de la Flor. Held in Corpus Christi, Texas, where she died, it celebrated her legacy and music with a festival featuring performances from Los Lobos and other Tejano stars as well as a screening of Selena. This year’s festival is set for March 24 and 25.