March 26, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

She was the star America didn’t know it had. Her smoldering stage presence and smooth soprano had made Selena Quintanilla-Perez the queen of Tejano music and one of the most promising singers in the Latin world. Yet to most of the country, Selena was unknown — until she was shot to death on March 31, 1995.

Yolanda Saldivar, the former president of Selena’s fan club, gunned down the singer outside room 158 of a Days Inn motel in Corpus Christi, Tex. Selena had gone to confront Saldivar for allegedly embezzling from the club. Soon after arriving, Selena burst out of the room screaming for help; moments later Saldivar shot her in the back. (Later, Saldivar claimed she had intended to kill herself when her gun went off. She is now serving a life sentence in Texas.) At 1:05 p.m. Selena was pronounced dead, killed two weeks before her 24th birthday by a single bullet.

The response was passionate. More than 30,000 mourners attended her memorial service in Corpus Christi, waiting in a line that stretched the length of seven football fields. ”We were devastated,” recalls Selena’s father and former manager, Abraham Quintanilla. ”Fans had lost a singer. We had lost a daughter.”

And Latinos had lost one of their most inspiring voices. She mesmerized audiences with her catchy Tejano music — a blend of Tex-Mex, pop, country, and German polka — and had already won a Grammy and sold 3 million records. But it was because she held on tightly to her roots that she formed a personal bond with fans. She and her husband, Chris, still lived next door to her parents in the modest Corpus Christi neighborhood where she had grown up. ”Selena accepted herself for exactly who she was,” says Gregory Nava, who directed the 1997 biopic Selena (which grossed $35 million domestically). ”And that’s why the Latino community embraced her so much.”

Ironically, it was in death that Selena found crossover stardom. Dreaming of You, a collection of hits released four months after her shooting, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard‘s pop album chart, making her the first Latina to accomplish that feat. Her family and her label, EMI Latin, have since released four more albums including all my hits/todos mis exitos, which went on sale this month. And the likes of Ricky Martin, Shakira, and the rest of the current Latin pop boom owe a huge debt to Selena’s legacy. ”I always say Gloria Estefan left the door ajar for Hispanic artists,” says EMI Latin president Jose Behar. ”But it was Selena who blew it wide open.”


AT THE MOVIES, Tommy Boy, starring Chris Farley and David Spade (left to right), is box office king. Less than three years later, Farley will die in his Chicago apartment after a drug and alcohol binge. ON TELEVISION, the 67th Academy Awards tops the ratings for the week. Tom Hanks wins his second straight Best Actor Oscar, for Forrest Gump. Meanwhile, host David Letterman’s ”Oprah…Uma” routine goes over like a lead balloon…. IN MUSIC STORES Madonna’s ”Take a Bow” single is No. 1, powered in part by an eye-catching video, a sepia-toned bullfighting epic set in Spain. AND IN THE NEWS, a federal judge tells the U.S. military that its ”don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuals in the service, in effect since 1994, is unconstitutional.

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