Selena Quintanilla’s Life and Career in Photos

Selena’s Early Start

Courtesy Everett Collection

Selena Quintanilla was born on April 16, 1971, in Lake Jackson, Texas, and by the time she was 6 years old, she was already a gifted singer.

“Her timing, her pitch were perfect,” Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla told PEOPLE in 1995. “I could see it from day one.”

Starting at a young age, Selena began performing at her family’s restaurant, Papagayo’s. It wasn’t long before her father decided to put his three kids together and create a new iteration of Los Diños — a band he had previously been recording with.

That’s when Selena y Los Diños was born, made up of Selena, her sister Suzette on the drums and her brother A.B. on bass.

In 1981, when the family lost their restaurant and home amid a recession in the state, they took their band on the road, playing weddings, quinceañeras and nightclubs.

“That’s when we began our musical career,” Selena recalled in 1992. “We had no alternative.”

Selena at the Tejano Music Awards

Philip Barr via ZUMA Wire

At just 15 years old, Selena won her first female vocalist of the year award at the Tejano Music Awards in 1986. The singer (seen here performing at the award ceremony in 1987) would go on to win a total of 11 female vocalist of the year awards.

Selena y Los Diños

While the band started as a family business, the group later added other musicians including Chris Pérez, Ricky Vela, Joe Ojtaeda and Pete Astudillo —with other musicians joining in at various times during their tenure.

Pérez shared this photo to Instagram as a tribute to his time in the group writing, “What more can be said about this collection of musicians? Together, at the time this pic was taken, we had so much fun while living the dream! Thanks to all of Selena’s fans for keeping her memory and legacy alive! GOOD TIMES!”

Selena’s Debut Solo Album

EMI Latin

After releasing numerous albums with Selena y Los Diños, Selena signed with EMI Latin in 1989 and released her self-titled album on Oct. 17, 1989. Between 1989 and 1995, she released five popular studio albums.

Dubbed the “Queen of Tejano Music” or the “Tex-Mex Madonna,” Selena would go on to become one of the best-selling female Latin music artists ever (with more than 65 million units sold worldwide, according to Billboard).

Most of her songs were written by her brother, A.B., and had to be learned phonetically as Selena’s first language was English and it actually wasn’t until the early 1990s that she started taking Spanish lessons.

Selena and Chris Pérez

Chris Perez Instagram

After Chris Pérez joined Selena y Los Diños as a guitarist, the two fell for each other— though her father disapproved. After he found out the two had been secretly seeing each other, he kicked Pérez out of the band, but Selena insisted he come back on board.

When the pair eloped in 1992, the singer took his name formally, becoming Selena Quintanilla-Pérez.

In January 2023, Pérez, who frequently honors his late wife on social media, shared this photo on Instagram writing “So, just found this pic. Two kids… trying to find their way. About to turn 23 and 24 years old.”

“Can’t remember who took it…I think this was in Florida???,” he continued of the photo that appears to be from 1994. “We were on the road and touring so much that sometimes, things get jumbled up in my mind. Good times were had, for sure!”

Selena Performing in 1993

AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Dave Einsel

Selena’s star continued to shine bright in the late 1980s and early 1990s — and she was even picked by Coca-Cola to be a spokesperson for the brand in 1989.

Here, she’s seen performing at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in February 1993 wearing one of her signature bedazzled bustiers.

Selena Releases ‘Amor Prohibido’

AP Photo/George Gongora-Corpus Christi Caller-Times, File

In 1994, Selena released Amor Prohibido, which became one of the best-selling Latin albums in the United States.

Here, she’s seen the same year performing in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Selena at the Grammy Awards in New York City

Larry Busacca/Getty

On March 1, 1994, Selena took home the Grammy Award for best Mexican-American album for her 1993 live album, Live!

The following year she nominated for best Mexican-American performance for her Amor Prohibido, though Vikki Carr took home the award that year.

Selena Opens Her Own Boutiques

Barbara Laing/Getty Images

In addition to her booming music career, Selena also pursued other ventures, including opening up two locations of her own boutique and salon called Selena Etc. in 1994, selling Selena’s signature line of clothing and jewelry.

Selena at the Hard Rock Cafe

Larry Busacca/Getty

In 1995, just months before her death, Selena performed at the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe in San Antonio, Texas.

Selena at the 1995 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Arlene Richie/Getty Images

On February 26, 1995, Selena visited the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and took the stage in her iconic sparkly purple ensemble.

Selena’s Final Performance

AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, John Everett

Selena rode out to the stage on a carriage and kicked off the set with a medley of disco tunes that included “I Will Survive” and “Funkytown,” followed by some of her biggest hits such as “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” “Si Una Vez” and “Como La Flor.”

The show would be the singer’s last performance before her tragic death just over a month later.

Selena’s Lasting Legacy

Arlene Richie/Getty

On March 31, 1995, Selena — who was just 23 years old at the time — went to confront the former president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldívar, at the Days Inn motel in Corpus Christi, Texas as Selena and her family suspected she’d been embezzling funds after being tapped to help run her boutiques.

Saldívar shot Selena once in the back shortly after she arrived, and about an hour later she was pronounced dead at the hospital.

At the time of her death, Selena had been working on her highly anticipated English album Dreaming of You. The project was released posthumously and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart on Aug. 4, 1995, and stayed on the list for 49 weeks.

“Doing the English record, that was always the next big goal for her,” Pérez said. “It felt like we had to finish it.”

In 2021, Selena was awarded the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards.

“Selena’s life was cut short, but her fans have carried her throughout the years and her legacy is being passed on from generation to generation,” her father told PEOPLE. “That in itself is incredible.”

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