Watching old clips of Selena Quintanilla—whether she’s singing, talking or just flashing that radiant smile—is an exercise in exhilaration and heartbreak.
It never gets tiresome, enjoying her enchanting presence.
But it does get awfully sad, especially once you lose yourself in the music and then remember that she’s gone.
Gone since 1995, in fact, and in the not too distant future, the amount of time she’ll have been gone is going to surpass the amount of time she spent on this planet.
And yet her legacy endures and her influence on the Latin-crossover music scene—and far beyond, probably further than most people realize—is as strong as ever, despite the mellifluously voiced pop star being struck down just as her fame was reaching new levels for all the right reasons.
Shocking Pop Star Deaths
Already a Grammy winner and burgeoning mogul with her own clothing line and a boutique-salon, Selena was killed—shot dead by the founder of her first fan club—in her native Texas on March 31, 1995. She was 23. More than 30,000 people viewed her casket at the Bayfront Plaza Convention Center in Corpus Christi.
In the years that followed, her story was of course brought to the masses by the biopic Selena, but she herself continued to be revered as a singular artist and person, known locally for her humanitarian work with battered women’s shelters and youth programs such as D.A.R.E.. A life-sized bronze statue stands in Corpus Christi, the Selena Museum opened in 1998, more than 65,000 people packed Houston’s Reliant Stadium for a tribute concert in 2005 and in 2011 the U.S. Postal Service put her on a stamp as a “Latin Legend.” Enamorada De Ti, a tribute album of Selena covers, was released in 2012.
The artist would have been 45 years old today, April 16, and Selena Day in Texas will be celebrated as always. Next month, the second annual Fiesta De La Flor will be packed with performers honoring the late artist, last year’s two-day festival having injected $ 13 million into the local economy in Corpus Christi, according to organizers.
While she was poised for major crossover success after releasing four Spanish-language albums (Dreaming of You posthumously hit No. 1), Jennifer Lopez‘s connection with Selena’s story did help turn an entirely new crop of fans onto the late singer’s music.
Stars Playing Real People
Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, wasn’t everyone’s first choice to play the Tejano singer, whose family roots were in Mexico. (And director Gregory Nava even had to fight for Lopez when some non-Latina actress’ names were floated as possible choices.)
But J.Lo dove 100 percent into the role—and both she and Selena emerged as bigger stars than ever.
Ultimately, Selena’s rise is easily explainable, a result of her talent, charm, business smarts and the luck that’s required to actually be successful, even when all the pieces are there.
It’s how she has stayed on top all of these years—her influence extending to arenas she could have never imagined and her simple, sweet, melodious first name (which means “moon”) becoming iconic—that may have to be attributed to otherworldly forces.
READ: 19 things you didn’t know about the movie Selena
It wasn’t just songs like the infectious “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” or the smash hits “I Could Fall in Love” and “Dreaming of You” that cemented Selena’s place in the hearts of so many artists whom she would never know she had inspired so much by just being herself.
“The grace with which she handled the business, the grace with which she handled her life, the humor,” Lopez recalled to Billboard last year around the 20th anniversary of Selena’s death. “Her spirit of loving what she did. Her sense of family. That’s the tragedy of everything that happened and why she left such an imprint—because she was gone way too soon.”
Coincidentally, Lopez’s third husband, Marc Anthony, actually knew Selena well.
“We were friends and colleagues, we started our careers at the same time,” he recalled to reporters last year in Miami, per Pulso Pop. “We were both born here [in the U.S.]. At first we struggled with our Spanish and were learning to speak it together.”
Anthony added, “I had an incredible love for her. I think that Selena shines because of the way she managed her life, her talent, her career. The way she represented us…It’s important that people keep remembering her as that figure. A lot of doors opened the way she achieved to open them in the market where a U.S. citizen can make a living singing in Spanish and traditional music from their country. Until this day we still feel the impact. You know? That’s why for me it’s an honor to say that I considered her a friend.”
And Selena’s influence was hardly limited to cross-over artists—and in fact her music was the first exposure that some singers had to Latin-inflected music. Singers ranging from Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to Whitney Houston and Beyoncé paid close attention to Selena’s sound and style.
“I listened to Selena all the time,” Beyoncé told People en Espanol in 2007 after recording six Spanish-language songs for a re-release of B-Day. “I grew up in Texas and one of my good friends from there is Mexican and she was so excited when she heard that I was doing songs in Spanish. She turned me on to Selena’s album when I was growing up and I listened to it all the time. At the time, I wasn’t too familiar with Spanish-speaking artists. A lot of my fans are Hispanic and they’ve always told me, ‘You should sing something in Spanish’ but I don’t speak Spanish at all. I took it in school but I don’t speak it at all but I thought let me give this a try.”
Artists performing live on stage
“Growing up, I loved Selena’s music,” Demi Lovatotold The Huffington Post in June 2014. “I was really young when she passed, so I didn’t know much about her until I got a little older. When I saw the movie, there was just some sort of connection. Even my dad is totally like the dad in the movie. It’s just so similar. There is something about the movie that was really inspiring to me. After that, you know, the songs are great, even though I don’t know what the words are. I’m learning Spanish, but I don’t know it fluently yet.”
April Celebrity Birthdays
Beyoncé would also recall meeting Selena in a Houston mall but not saying anything to her—because she herself wasn’t a celebrity yet. “I think she is a legend and I admire her,” Bey told MTV Tres. “She was so talented. Even though she didn’t know who I was… I was still so excited that I got the opportunity!”
“Selena is an angel, I think,” Katy Perry suggested during an interview with a Spanish-language station when asked about various Latina artists.
“Amazing woman—she would have been bigger than all of us,” Eva Longoria mused on Lopez Tonight in 2011.
Even Whitney Houston, who inspired so many others herself, took notice of what Selena accomplished in her short yet prolific career.
“What Selena did in the English market was brilliant,” Houston, who died in 2012, told the New York Daily News in 1999. “Clive Davis and I are thinking about me doing that in the other direction.”
Dope ’90s-Inspired Fashion
Meanwhile, Selena’s clothing, hair and makeup—a sexy but not too sexy combination of sporty ease and bombshell glamour—isn’t even enjoying a resurgence because her influence never went away.
MAC Cosmetics just this week released a cherry-red lipstick called “Como La Flor,” named after one of her biggest hits, with a full product line to follow in October.
“She has been gone for 21 years already, and for this collaboration to happen, it’s pretty much incredible,” Suzette Quintanilla, Selena’s sister and keeper of her legacy, said in a statement. “It just shows the love her fan base has even though she’s gone; that her music still lives on and her legacy has grown tremendously since she’s passed. It’s a great honor to have M·A·C collaborate with Selena’s name and her fans—FOR her fans.”
“One of my beauty idols was Selena, who had the most beautiful lips,” Fergie revealed to Glamour.com last summer. “I over-line my lips a bit—I completely admit it. I really like the look.”
Lady Gaga‘s early tour looks—she was a big fan of the bustier—were reportedly inspired by Selena as well, and we know her “Selena” concert tee was an all-time fave.
And for the generation who may only know of another young entertainer with that famous name, know that Selena Gomez‘s namesake is exactly what it sounds like.
“I am named after her. 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,” Selena Gomez said on The View in 2012. “I got to visit her grave. I’ve actually met her family. Some of her family, and it’s such a honor to be named after someone so amazing.”
“My dad is actually the one who had the final say,” added the now 23-year-old artist. “He loved her and it was a big deal—her, she was a big deal to us.”
Gomez, J.Lo, Adrienne Bailon and Bruno Mars are among those who’ve memorably covered Selena in recent years.
“It makes me feel good that after so many years people still remember my daughter,” Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, told NBC News last year. “But at the same time I would rather that she be here.”
In an audio clip from what’s widely said to be the last interview she gave before she died, included in an online tribute, Selena is asked what she hoped to be remembered for when she was gone.
“As, um…not only as an entertainer,” the larger-than-life singer said, “but as a person who cared a lot and I gave the best that I could—and I tried to be the best role model that I possibly could, and the best person I could. I tried to help out.”
All the stars at the 2015 Billboard Latin Music Awards