Guitarist and bandleader
“Carlos Santana’s own spiritual committment, his natural love of the festival and of dance have made for a fabulous melting pot of a rock band, not the greatest rock band in the world but the greatest world band in rock,” John Piccarella wrote in 1979 in a Village Voice column entitled “Santana’s Indegenous Internationalism.” In the ten years that followed, rock music was redefined almost monthly, but the world music of Carlos Santana and his ensembles has remained popular around the world.
Santana was born in Autlan de Navarro, Mexico, on July 20, 1947. His father, a mariachi violinist, taught him the violin and guitar. After the family moved to Tijuana, he began to learn and copy American blues from recordings of B.B. King and Chuck Berry, later adding T-Bone Walker and Saunders King to his list of influences. Santana moved to San Francisco, where his parents had relocated, and discovered jazz. According to Mark Rowland in the liner notes for the album Viva Santana!, Santana also discovered “the salsa giants like Tito Puente, Ray Baretto and Eddie Palmieri.” Santana explained to Rowland that salsa was “a serious music, proud. A positive side, a dignifying side of Africa through Cuba and Puerto Rico.”
The band Santana was formed in 1966 around the talents of bass guitarist David Brown and keyboard player Gregg Rolie. The band’s improvisational sessions rooted in Latin American rhythms quickly became popular with jazz enthusiasts who recognized its creativity in combining salsa and blues riffs. The music of Santana also had a large audience among the Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, and Latin American communities in the United States, as well as among those who enjoyed dancing to the band’s rhythmic beat.
Santana made its breakthrough to the mainstream audience at the Woodstock festival, via San Francisco’s Fillmore Theatre and its manager Bill Graham. Although they were still unrecorded, they were included in a festival line-up that featured Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Joan Baez. Their set, ending with “Soul Sacrifice,” was documented in the film “Woodstock” (1970), which reached an audience that did not listen to jazz or Latin stations. Santana, now made up of Carlos Santana on guitar, Rolie, Brown, percussionist Michael Carabello (on drums, congo drums and tambourine) and timbalist/percusionist Chepito Areas, had a string of gold and platinum albums for Columbia—Santana, Abraxas, and Santana III —testifying to their crossover success. The first single, “Jingo,” was given frequent playings on FM and Spanish-language AM stations on either coast. Two hit singles, “Evil Ways” and Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” were popular on dance lists across the country. Later gold albums included
Adopted spiritual name Devadip during 1970s; born July 20, 1947, in Autlan de Navarro, Mexico; son of Jose (a musician) and Josephina Santana; married; wife’s name Urmila (a religious professional with Sri Chinmoy).
Founder of and guitarist in band Santana, 1966—; recording artist with Columbia Records, 1968—; appeared at Woodstock music festival, 1969, live performance featured in documentary film “Woodstock,” 1970. Has performed and recorded with numerous musicians, including Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, John McLaughlin, Jose Feliciano, Buddy Miles, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Alice Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Wayne Shorter, and Olatunjl. Awards: Recipient of Gold Medal Award, 1977.
Addresses: Manager —Bill Graham Productions, P.O. Box 1994, San Francisco CA 94101.
Caravanserai (1972) and Welcome (1972). Among the other instrumentalists who have appeared with Santana are congoist Armando Peraza, Ndugu Chancier, and jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Carlos Santana has also performed as a jazz musician.
The spiritual conversion of Carlos Santana to Sri Chinmoy affected his music and the group’s. As Devadip [Eye of God] Santana, he performed and recorded with fellow believers John Coltrane, Turiya Alice Coltrane, and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. Frank Rose, reviewing a collaborative concert of Santana, Contrane, and McLaughlin in 1974 for the Village Voice, described Santana as “flourishing in the double shadow of Coltrane’s genius and McLaughlin’s spiritualism,” partially because, as Rose wrote, “Santana’s piecing quitar slashed through it like a lightning bolt.” The fusion period of the early and mid-1970s brought such experimental albums as Love, Devotion, Surrender (1973) in collaboration with McLaughlin. Most of Santana’s interviews in this period concentrated on his conversion and on the changes that it had brought to his band’s collaborative functioning. It also brought Santana back to Woodstock, this time for an outdoor concert dedicated to Sri Chinmoy’s music.
Latin-based rock returned as Santana’s principal genre with the album Amigos (1976) and Zebop (1982). His personal fusion of rock and salsa was not always appreciated by the audience, according to John Storm Roberts of the Village Voice.”Despite everything, Carlos Santana’s musical achievement seems to me underrated,” he wrote in a review of a May 1976 concert. “His music is an uncommonly equal yoke of salsa and rock and his musicians can sear steak. The strength of this fusion is fully grasped neither by his rock audience, which certainly doesn’t understand the richness of his Afro-Latin references, nor by older Latins, who often talk as through he was trying to play salsa, and not quite making it.”
By 1979, Santana had split his musical identity into his work with the band, which still played fusion Latin-rock and his solo albums, which were more overtly religious. In John Rockwell’s New York Times column, “The Pop Life,” in March 1979, he described the difference between Santana’s two new releases. Inner Secrets [the band album] is a typically appealing Santana grab bag with a couple of overt extensions into disco that don’t represent any real alteration at all. The songs are more concise and pop oriented than ever, yet Mr. Santana’s strong, lyrical guitar solos and the percussion build a bridge to his past…. Now, Santana is more willing to confine his overt religiousity to such projects as Oneness [the solo album] and to let his spiritual mesage be more indirectly conveyed at Santana concerts.” Santana credited Bill Graham with his return to his musical roots, according to an interview Graham gave Robert Jasinski in the New York Daily News in 1982. “I told Devadip Santana that people wanted to hear the street sound that made them dance and sweat and that they associated with the band, “said Graham.
Santana has also conveyed his message of spiritual awareness at a variety of political and socially conscious benefits. The band was one of only four acts to appear at both Woodstock and LiveAid. They can be seen and heard on Musicourtthe United Cerebral Palsy benefit jam sessions recorded on video in 1981. Santana joined with Run-D.M.C at a Crack-Down concert (for Artists for Crack Education) in November 1986 that featured a collaboration among its members, West African percussionist Babtunde Olatunji, and second-generation salsa-fusionist Reuben Blades.
Santana’s annual summertime concert in New York City, held either at Forest Hills Stadium, Pier 84, or at an outdoor location, gives the band an opportunity to collaborate with other fusion groups. In 1987, for example, they performed with the New Orleans-based Neville Brothers, with results that Dan Aquilante of the New York Post described as “spellbinding.” “If the Santana repertory was a pack of 52, then each time he snapped a song off the top of the deck it was an ace.” A reunion concert in 1988 brought Santana together with Rolie and Michael Shrieve for “a tough jamming band that favored long improvisations,” as Peter Watrous described it in a New York Times review. “The loose song forms give Mr. Santana room to toss out some of the musical ideas on his mind; throughout the night, acting like a jazz musician, he quoted from other songs…. But more than anything, it is an instrumental band and it was over a steaming, raunchy blues boogie that both Mr. Santana and Mr. Rolie … found their highest moments.”
Viva Santana! is both a re-issuing of old material and a reunion of early collaborators. Although the band’s family tree is so complex that it is printed over two double-page spreads, it is apparent from the sounds on the double album that Santana’s fusion still holds and is capable of continuous evolution. Santana has often been described as “America’s premiere rock and roll ambassador to the world” because it accepts the musical heritage of the entire world as valid and worthy of experimentation within its improvisatory borders.
With group Santana; released by Columbia
Santana III, 1972.
Greatest Hits, 1974.
Inner Secrets, 1979.
Swing of Delight, 1980.
Havana Moon, 1983.
Beyond Appearances, 1985.
Viva Santana! (compilation), 1989.
Devadip Carlos—Oneness: Silver Dreams, Golden Reality, Columbia, 1979.
Blues For Salvador, Columbia, 1987.
With Buddy Miles, Columbia, 1971.
(With John McLaughlin)Love Devotion Surrender, Columbia, 1973.
(With Alice Coltrane)Illuminations, Columbia, 1974.
Has appeared as guest artist on numerous albums, including on Gato Barbieri’s Tropico, 1978; Mike Bloomfield’s Live Adventures, 1969; Papa John Creach’s Papa John Creach, 1971 ; Bob Dylan’s Real Live, 1984; Herbie Hancock’s Monster, 1980; and Boz Scaggs’s Middleman, 1980.
New York Daily News, August 6, 1982.
New York Post, July 20, 1987.
New York Times, May 9, 1976; March 9, 1979; November 2, 1986; September 17, 1988.
Rolling Stone, December 7, 1972; May 6, 1976.
Villiage Voice, March 14, 1974; May 17, 1976; March 26, 1979.
The undisputed “Queen of Tejano,” Selena Quintanilla-Pérez rocketed meteorically into the spotlight in the late 1980s. Within a few years, the artist, known simply as Selena, won a Grammy Award for her album Selena Live. Selena sold six albums between 1987 and 1994. By the age of 19, she was a millionaire; by the age of 21, she could draw crowds of 20,000 at the fairgrounds at Pasadena, Texas. Music critics proclaimed she would be the next Madonna, i.e. a mega-star of music and movies. Tragically, however, Selena’s career was cut short at the age of 23, when she was murdered by the president of her fan club.
Selena and her band performed Tejano music—Mexican ranchera style music mixed with German polka sounds owing influence to pop, country and western, and Caribbean music. Tejano traditionally meant music by Texans of Mexican descent. But Selena, among others, modernized the traditional accordion-based Tejano or Tex-Mex music with country twangs, techno-pop beats, dance mixes, and international influences. More than 70 radio stations playing the uniquely, Latino-styled tunes form a corridor from south Texas through California.
Selena Quintanilla was born April 16, 1971, in Lake Jackson, Texas, a small industrial town near Houston. Her father Abraham Quintanilla, Jr. worked as a shipping clerk at the Dow Chemical plant. Abraham and his wife Marcela had three children: Abraham III, Suzette, and Selena, the youngest. In his own youth, Quintanilla had performed as a vocalist with Los Dinos (” the boys”) a popular South Texas band. When Quintanilla heard his daughter sing at six years of age, he knew Selena was destined for a musical career and encouraged the musical talents that she revealed. In a 1995 People article, Quintanilla affirmed that Selena’s “timing and [her] pitch were perfect. I could see it from day one.”
Selena practiced with the music she enjoyed, a wide range of music from the soul music of Little Anthony and the Imperials to country and western music and even the stylized R&B of Michael Jackson. Through her love of all different kinds of music and early jam sessions with her brother on bass and her sister on drums, Selena demonstrated her passion for the musical arts.
After years of working for others, Abraham Quintanilla opened his own Tex-Mex restaurant in Lake Jackson. There Selena first performed in public with her brother and sister as members of her band. But the economic recession of the early 1980s delivered a knockout blow that closed the family restaurant, forcing them to leave
For the Record…
Born Selena Quintanilla, April 16, 1971 in Lake Jackson, TX; died of gunshot wounds March 31, 1995 in Corpus Christi, TX; daughter of Abraham (a shipping clerk, restaurant owner) and Marcela Quintanilla; married Chris Perez, 1992.
Began performing with siblings as Selena y Los Dinos (Selena and the Boys) in the late 70s; recorded first song in 1979; left school in the eighth grade and recorded for a small regional label; signed to EMI/Latin in 1989.
Selected Awards: Tejano Music Awards for best female vocalist and performer of the year, 1987; Grammy Award for best Mexican American album, 1993, for Selena Live; Grammy nomination, 1995, for Amor Prohibido (Forbidden Love); Tejano Music Awards, 1995, for song of the year (“Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”), best female entertainer, best female vocalist, album of the year (Amor Prohibido), Tejano crossover song, and record of the year.
their home and sell all their belongings. Selena’s talent would save them.
While the rest of the Quintanilla’s relocated in Corpus Christi, Selena and her siblings hit the road, performing throughout southern Texas as Selena y Los Dinos (” Selena and the Boys”). They played at weddings and in cantinas and honky-tonks to very small audiences—oftentimes less than ten people. In a dilapidated van with one foldout bed in the back, the troupe traveled and performed. In 1979, eight-year-old Selena recorded her first tune—a country song sung in Spanish; her Tex-Mex band was in full swing by 1980.
Selena left school in the eighth grade to spend more time travelling with the band and earning money for her family, but she eventually completed her high school equivalency requirements through a correspondence course. The band started playing larger venues, including ballrooms. They also recorded nearly one dozen albums for a small regional label. In 1987, Selena—then 15-years-old—won Tejano Music Awards for best female vocalist and performer of the year. This was the big break that Selena and the band had worked for years to achieve. Two years later, the Latin division of the EMI Records Group signed the band to a record deal.
Though Selena was the rising star of Latino pop, she was still very much a Texan. She could not speak Spanish and learned the Spanish lyrics for her lively songs and romantic ballads phonetically, coached by her brother, who wrote the songs. At the advice of her father, turned manager, she began taking Spanish lessons in the early 1990s, so that she could project a more genuine Latino image during interviews on Spanish-language radio.
In 1992 Selena Quintanilla married the band’s guitarist Chris Pérez. The union did not hamper Selena’s sexy image. Rather, Selena became known as the “Tex-Mex Madonna” because of her sexy bustiers and provocative smiles on-stage though off-stage she remained a wholesome, married woman who was devoted to her family.
Selena had repeatedly refused offers for fan clubs, keeping her career a family project. But then came Yolanda Saldivar who expressed interest in founding and running Selena’s fan club. She was an aunt of one of Selena’s childhood friends, but beyond that she was a stranger. Saldivar lived near San Antonio, working as a registered nurse, and caring for three children abandoned by her brother. Despite Saldivar’s remote connection to the Quintanillas, Selena and her family appointed Saldivar as the president of the Selena fan club, an unpaid position. In just four years, Selena’s fan club attracted 9000 members.
When speaking of her desire to work for Selena, Saldivar told the Dallas Morning News in 1994 that she became a devoted Selena fan after seeing a San Antonio concert in 1989. “Selena just inspired me—with her talent, her motivation. She gives her whole to you.” The two developed a close friendship. Though Saldivar did not receive an official salary, Selena often bestowed the woman with gifts and indulged Saldivar’s penchant for spotted cows with cow-patterned rugs and phones. Saldivar reciprocated by transforming her apartment into a Selena shrine, laden with Selena photos and memorabilia, including a life-size cardboard pop-up of the singer.
In 1993 Selena Live received a Grammy Award for best Mexican American album. Selena’s 1994 album, Amor Prohibido (Forbidden Love) —recipient of a Grammy nomination—sold 600,000 copies in the United States. The fourth single from the album, “Fotos y Recuerdos” (” Photographs and Memories”), reached the top ten on Billboard magazine’s Latino charts.
By 1995, Selena’s albums had sold a combined total of 3 million copies. Twice, she played to record crowds of 60,000 at Houston’s annual Livestock Show and Rodeo. Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” won the singer a song of the year award at the Tejano Music Awards in early 1995. She also won five more of the 15 awards presented at the 1995 Tejano Music Awards ceremonies, including best female entertainer; best female vocalist; album of the year; Tejano crossover song; and record of the year. An amazed Selena was quoted as saying in Time magazine, “Never in my dreams would I have thought I would become this big. I am still freaking out.”
In 1994, Selena promoted Saldivar to a paid position as head of Selena Etc. Inc., a company devoted to overseeing two Selena boutiques/salons—one in Corpus Christi and one in San Antonio—and to marketing a line of Selena fashions to be sold in the boutiques as well as in other retail venues. But things began falling apart rapidly. First, fashion designer Martin Gomez quit, claiming that he could not work with Saldivar, who he accused of being “mean and manipulative.” The problem escalated with reports of other lapses by Saldivar involving misuse of funds.
Meanwhile, fans were not receiving t-shirts and other Selena items that they had paid for, and money was disappearing from one of the salons. Selena and her father both confronted Saldivar about the reported abuses. Saldivar protested claiming that she had documentation to prove her innocence, and offered to show Selena the alleged papers.
Selena and Saldivar were supposed to meet alone at the Days Inn where Saldivar was staying. Instead Selena brought her husband; Saldivar proved not to have the papers she’d claimed to possess. The next day Selena went to the Days Inn sometime before noon to talk with Saldivar. At 11:50a.m., the Corpus Christi police received a 911 call of a shooting at the motel.
Police detailed that Saldivar met Selena at the door of her motel room with a .38-caliber revolver, shooting the singer in the back and shoulder. Selena staggered to the lobby before collapsing, though she remained conscious until paramedics arrived. Response teams rushed Selena to the hospital. Despite blood transfusions, Selena died a few hours after being shot, on March 31, 1995. Saldivar was charged with Selena’s murder.
But the ordeal did not end with Selena’s death. Saldivar holed up with the revolver in the cab of a pickup truck in the Days Inn parking lot. For hours she threatened to shoot herself while negotiating with police via a cellular car phone. As the news of Selena’s murder spread, the singer’s fans stood vigil at the Days Inn. Saldivar finally surrendered at 9:30 p.m.
In the wake of Selena’s murder, grieving fans swamped the Quintanilla family with remembrances, including bouquets, rosaries, and votives. Condolences were sent to the Quintanillas by Julio Iglesias, Gloria Estefan, Madonna, and La Mafia, a well-known Latino group. Local radio stations devoted their programming to Selena’s music, and more than 1000 Selena tapes and compact discs were sold at a frenzied pace during the next couple of weeks.
Fifteen hundred mourners attended a vigil for the singing star at the Bayfront Plaza and Convention Center prior to her funeral held at Corpus Christi’s Memorial Coliseum, the arena where she had recorded her smash hit Selena Live. 10,000 people flooded Corpus Christi to pass by Selena’s coffin. In Los Angeles, 4000 people gathered at the Sports Arena Memorial to honor the slain singer. Mourners also gathered in San Antonio, the capital of Tejano music, at two separate sites.
Selena was killed just as her career was about to skyrocket in new directions. She had recorded six songs for an English-language album, her first with EMI’s SBK division, making her only the third Latino performer to ever cross from the Latin division to the more mainstream part of the record company. In addition, she had made her film debut as herself in Dos Mujeres, Un Camino, a Latino Television soap. In 1995, she continued to advance her film career as a mariachi singer in the film Don Juan DeMarco, and she had collaborated with former Talking Heads leader David Bryne on the song “God’s Child” for the film Blue in the Face.
Cameron Randle, a recording industry executive specializing in Tex-Mex music, voiced his opinions of Selena in a retrospective of her career published in Entertainment Weekly in April of 1995. “Selena was not merely forging an exceptional career, she was defining a new genre as uniquely American as Delta blues or New Orleans jazz. There’s every indication she would have been as enormously popular as [fellow Latinos] Jon Secada or Gloria Estefan. She was about to take center stage as the first Tejano performer to attempt a full-scale crossover, and she was robbed of that opportunity.”
Selena’s posthumous release Dreaming of You entered the Billboard 200 at number one—the second-highest chart debut after Michael Jackson’s History— and was also a number one album on the Billboard Latin 50. The jump into the top pop slot made Selena one of the fastest selling female artists of all time, second only to Janet Jackson. An amazing 175,000 copies of the compact disc were sold on the first day of release.
On Capitol/EMI Latin
Entre A Mi Mundo, 1992.
Ms Mejores Canciones, 1993.
Selena Live, 1993.
Amor Prohibido, 1994.
Dreaming of You, 1995.
Billboard, February 25, 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, April 14, 1995.
Hispanic, December 31, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1995; April 2, 1995; April 3, 1995.
La Prensa de San Antonio, June 11, 1993; November 19, 1993; April 29, 1994.
New York Times, April 2, 1995; April 3, 1995.
People, April 17, 1995; July 10, 1995.
Time, April 10, 1995.
—Christopher B. Tower
Jazz, rock guitarist
Carlos Santana’s music, an eclectic blend of international rhythms, has proved more durable than the Rhythm-and-Blues sound that dominated the sixties, and indeed than later trends such as the disco movement of the 1970s. Santana’s concerts, with their trademark searing guitar solos over a background of powerful Afro-Cuban style percussion, continue to attract a world-wide audience.
Santana’s origins are about as far from the mainstream as could be imagined. He was born July 20, 1947 in Autlan de Navarro, a remote village in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. His father, Jose Santana, was a violinist of some local renown and through him Carlos had his earliest exposure to music in the form of the traditional Mexican violin. Although he never found the violin to his liking, Santana acquired a definite appreciation for music and the determination to make performing his career. When the Santana family moved to the border city of Tijuana in 1955, Carlos discovered American music. Rock-and-roll and blues artists such as Freddy King, B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Little Richard were given heavy air play on the radio and by local cover bands, and the teenaged Carlos found something soul-stirring in the powerful electric rhythms. His father gave him a guitar and by the early sixties, he became a professional musician, playing long hours in the thriving Tijuana strip club scene.
In 1961, Santana’s father moved to San Francisco to seek work and, soon after, the rest of the family followed him. Carlos disliked the United States at first and returned to Tijuanato live on his own and support himself as a club musician. Although this brief spell of freedom was stimulating, the harsh lifestyle of the club circuit took its toll and in late 1963, Santana returned to San Francisco for good. Here he found a new variety of music, discovering jazz, international folk music, classic salsa from the likes of Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri, and seeing artists like B.B. King, whose records he had memorized note-by-note, perform live. To his young, fertile mind, the Bay Area was, as Carlos remembered in a Billboard interview, “a cornucopia….”
It was also the area where the hippie movement was coming to life in a ferment of confusion and creativity. Santana observed the scene from its margins, absorbing its eclectic ideals and cultivating his own musical abilities. Employed full-time as a dishwasher at a down-town diner, he jammed on weekends with anyone he could find, playing for spare change in the street while sizing up musicians for his band. When, one day in 1966,
For the Record…
Born July 20, 1947 in Autlan de Navarro, Mexico; son of Jose (traditional violinist) and Josefina Santana; adapted religious name Devadip (”the light of the lamp of the Supreme”) in the early 1970s; married Deborah Sara King in 1973.
Began performing in 1961 in Tijuana, Mexico; lead guitarist of group Santana (founded as Santana Blues Band in San Francisco, CA), 1966—; recording artist with Columbia/CBS, 1969-1991; recording artist with Polydor, 1991—; founded Guts and Grace record label, 1994; appeared at Fillmore West, 1968, Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, 1969, Altamont Festival, 1969, California Jam II, 1978, LiveAid, 1985, first Amnesty International concert tour, 1986, Woodstock ’94, 1994; has recorded and performed with: Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, Jose Feliciano, Miles Davis, Flora Purim, Herbie Hancock, Buddy Miles, John Coltrane, Turiya Alice Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Aretha Franklin, Babatunde Olatunji, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Blues Traveler.
Awards: Playboy All-Star Jazz and Pop Poll - Record of the Year for Abraxas, 1972; Bay Area Music Awards -Best Group, 1980; Playboy Reader Music Poll -Number One Pop/Rock Guitarist, 1983; Playboy Reader Music Poll - Number One: Pop/Rock Guitarist, 1984; Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, Blues for Salvador, 1988; Bay Area Music Awards, Musician of the Year, 1989; Billboard Century Award for distinguished creative achievement, 1996.
Addresses: Home —San Rafael, CA. Publicist —Jensen Communications, Inc., 230 East Union Street, Pasadena, CA 91101.
the band members of Grateful Dead happened to pull up to the diner in limousines, Santana came to the sudden realization that he was just as good a musician as they were and capable of being just as successful. Deciding to take the plunge and become a full-time musician, he quit on the spot and joined forces with fellow street musicians bassist David Brown and keyboard player Gregg Rolie to form the Santana Blues band.
Amid the noise of the many San Francisco rock groups that came into being at the same time, the Santana Blues Band—quickly shortened to “Santana”—had to struggle to be heard. Fortunately for them, their sound, a fast-tempo, improvisational take on Latin music that fused elements of jazz, blues, salsa, and African music, proved immediately appealing to club audiences. One person who was particularly taken with them was rock promoter Bill Graham, a moving force behind the Bay Area music scene, who was looking for an alternative to the countless sound-alike blues bands. Impressed by the distinct Afro-Cuban resonance of the band, Graham booked them in 1968 at his Fillmore West and Winterland clubs and promoted them vigorously. Their fortunes underwent a steady rise, culminating in a legendary performance at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969.
Face-to-face with some half million revelers, the band—consisting of Santana, Rolie, Brown, Mike Shrieve on drums, and Jose Areas and Mike Carrabello on percussion—was nervous, but elated. As Santana recalled in a Rolling Stone article commemorating the festival’s twentieth anniversary, “It was a bit scary to go out there and plug into this ocean of hair, teeth, eyes, and arms. It was incredible.” Their set was a revelation to an audience which had little or no previous experience with Latin or jazz music and definitely liked what it heard. Music executives were just as appreciative and the band’sfirst album, Santana, was released by Columbia in 1969. It would remain on the Billboard Charts for over two years and become a triple platinum album, selling nearly four million copies.
Santana had arrived and the success of their first album, exemplified by the top 10 single “Evil Ways,” was just the beginning. In 1970, the band released a second album, Abraxas, that yielded two hit singles, “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman,” and went platinum. Santana III, a gold album in 1971, and Caravanserai, a platinum album in 1972 followed. During the same period, a deepening interest in jazz led Carlos to his first collaborative effort outside the group in the form of Live!, recorded with jazz drummer Buddy Miles in the crater of Hawaii’s Diamond Head volcano.
The band underwent a number of personnel changes during this period as Carlos experimented with a shifting mix of musicians. Guitarist Neal Schon joined the group in 1971 and then left in 1973 after the release of Caravanserai with Gregg Rolie, one of the Santana Blues Band’s original founders, to form the group Journey. In time, Carlos was the only member from the original group left, and Santana, the band, came to be almost exclusively associated with him and his Latin rock/jazz fusion guitar playing. Although many groups might have foundered under the pressure of so much tinkering with internal chemistry, Carlos seemed to have a gift for choosing musicians who would meld together effortlessly, as he explained in a Down Beai interview, “[I had] to learn howto be wise getting a person who has his identity but is like water… because I don’t play just one idiom of music.”
Santana’s personal life also continued to change and evolve in ways that would effect the group’s music. Disheartened by the alienation he saw in the music world at the beginning of the 1970s, reflected in the drug-induced deaths of many prominent musicians, he became a follower of SriChimnoy, aguru and proponent of meditation, who gave Santanathe name Devadip, meaning “the light of the lamp of the supreme.” His identification with Chimnoy’s teachings, as well as a deep fascination with the eastern-influenced music of jazz master John Coltrane, brought him together with fellow Chimnoy devotee and guitar wizard, Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. They released the spiritually-oriented jazz-fusion album Love, Devotion, Surrender in 1973 and it went gold, testifying to the popular draw of value-based religious music. Over the next decade, Santana released four more similar-themed solo albums, recording with the likes of Turiya Alice Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Ron Carter.
Although Santana’s religiosity would be very important to him throughout the seventies and early eighties, he managed to keep it separate from the more pop-oriented work he was doing with his band. Over the course of the decade, the group released a string of albums, including the highly successful Amigos in 1976, and Zebop in 1981, both of which marked a return to the latin-based rock with which the group was so strongly identified. With the exception of the live album Lotus, all of the records released by the group between 1969 and 1981 went gold or platinum, a track record which few other bands at the time could match.
In 1982, Santana ended his association with Sri Chimnoy, feeling that he had outgrown a need for a spiritual advisor and preferring to let music alone guide him. As he commented in a Billboard interview, “…the tone of Miles [Davis] or the moan of John Lee Hooker, that stuff… touches me way deeper than a hundred gurus, a thousand yogis, fifteen hundred popes.” However, he continued to explore jazz, touring with Wayne Shorter in 1988, and recording solo albums such as Blues for Salvador, released in 1987, which garnered Santana his first Grammy award.
With the decline of commercial interest in jazz/rock fusion during the 1980s, Santana’s group recorded less frequently, releasing only five albums over the course of the decade as opposed to the twelve they had recorded during the seventies. Nonetheless the band maintained a high public profile, touring extensively to sold-out auditoriums and appearing at the US Festival, LiveAid, and on the first Amnesty International concert tour. Like many artists from the sixties, Carlos felt that the most important thing about his group was what took place on stage, the spontaneity and communication with the audience, rather than the number of albums they sold. Discussing his musical goals in a 1988 Down Beat article, he asserted, “I don’t measure my life according to Rolling Stone or the Pope or Billboard…. If I can give myself chills or make my hair stand up, it doesn’t matter whether I’m [playing] in front of Macy’s or in Madison Square Garden….”
In 1991, Carlos ended his twenty-two year relationship with Columbia/CBS and signed with Polydor, releasing the albums Milagro in 1992, and Sacred Fire: Live in South America in 1993. In 1994, Carlos founded his own label, called Gutsand Grace, and released asolo album, Brothers, a collaboration between Carlos, his brother Jorge Santana, and nephew Carlos Hernandez that was nominated for a best rock instrumental Grammy Award. Twenty-five years after his arrival at Woodstock, he exposed a whole new generation of music fans to his fieryguitar work at the commemorative Woodstock ’94 festival. In 1995, he played with blues legend John Lee Hooker on the album Chill Out and in 1996 received the Century Award from Billboard magazine in recognition of his impact over thirty years on the American music scene.
Santana’s music continues to hold audiences around the world spellbound. Although it might be tempting to dismiss him as a musical relic whose durability is based on nostalgia for the sixties, one would be greatly mistaken in doing so. Santana appeals to contemporary listen-ersfor the same reason that his group originally interested Bill Graham: an ability to reach beyond artistic boundaries and find something new. Two decades before “world music” was recognized by the public and record executives, Santana made it an art form. From the departure point of his Latin roots, Santana and a host of accompanying musicians blended Eastern music, Rhythm-and-Blues, Afro-Cuban jazz, African drumming, and innumerable other influences into a searing, multicultural mix that transcends musical and spiritual borders. In doing so, he created, and continues to create, a uniquely American hybrid.
Santana, Columbia, 1969.
Abraxas, Columbia, 1970.
Santana III, Columbia, 1971.
Caravanserai, Columbia, 1972.
(With Buddy Miles) Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live. Columbia, 1972
Welcome, Columbia, 1973.
(With Mahavishnu John McLaughlin) Love, Devotion, Surrender, Columbia, 1973
Greatest Hits, Columbia, 1974.
Borboletta, Columbia, 1974.
Illuminations, Columbia, 1974.
Lotus, Columbia, 1975.
Amigos, Columbia, 1976.
Festival, Columbia, 1976.
Moonflower, CBS, 1977.
Inner Secrets, Columbia, 1978.
Marathon, Columbia, 1979.
Oneness, Silver Dreams-Golden Reality, Columbia, 1979.
The Swing of Delight, Columbia, 1980.
Zebop, Columbia, 1981.
Shango, Columbia, 1982.
Havana Moon, Columbia, 1983.
Beyond Appearances, Columbia, 1985.
Freedom, Columbia, 1987.
Blues for Salvador, Columbia, 1987.
Viva Santana!, Columbia, 1988.
The Sound of Carlos Santana, Pair, 1989.
Spirits Dancing in the Flesh, CBS Records, 1990.
Milagro, Polygram Records, 1992.
Sacred Fire, Polydor, 1993.
Brothers, Polygram Records, 1994.
Billboard, April 6, 1996; December 7, 1996.
Down Beat, February 1988; August 1991.
Guitar Player, January 1993.
Rolling Stone, August 24, 1989.
Stereo Review, February 1989.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Island Records, New York, NY and Jensen Communications, Pasadena, CA, 1997.
In the late 1960s, when acid rock reigned and the British Invasion was still raging, Carlos Santana and his band introduced the music scene to a new Latin-based rock sound featuring an Afro-Cuban beat. This would effectively usher in the concept of “world music” years before the description would catch up with the style. After soaring in popularity and becoming one of the biggest acts of the day, the group went through various personnel changes, but they continued to make music together even as Santana, finding new spiritual and musical paths, began to record jazz fusion on his own with many other top names. Though his rock records continued to sell vigorously, he would not have a radio hit after 1982.
Then, in 1999, Santana became one of the most often-heard performers on the airwaves. He teamed up with some of the hottest young acts of the day, including Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews, Everlast, and Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, along with the legendary Eric Clapton, to produce a work that harkened back to his early Latin sounds, but with a contemporary slant. With an irresistible hook and Thomas’s cool vocals, the single “Smooth” began racing up the charts, and the album, Supernatural, sold an astonishing 14 million units. The project overall won a phenomenal total of eight Grammy Awards, tying Michael Jackson’s 1983 record for most Grammys won on a single night. Some wondered if his comeback could be attributed to the sudden boom in Latin music beginning in the late 1990s that helped create the popularity of artists such as Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, and others. Santana, however, credits a force more high-minded than a fad or marketing appeal. “It’s not really chance or luck,” he remarked to Jeff Gordinier in Entertainment Weekly.“It’s something more paranormal like divine synchronicity.”
Santana was born to Jose and Josefina Santana on July 20, 1947, in Autlan de Navarro, a small village in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. His father, a traditional violinist who played mariachi music, exposed him to the basics of music theory when he was five years old and tried to teach him violin. “My father’s a musician, his father was a musician, my great-grandfather was a musician,” he told James Schaffer in Down Beat.San-tana added, “Dad taught me the violin for almost seven years, and I could never get anything out of it. I always sounded like Jack Benny no matter how hard I tried. Only Jack Benny could really play, but I sounded like Jack Benny when he was fooling around.”
More interested in rock ’n’ roll than the mariachi sounds anyway, Santana began to learn the guitar at age eight, imitating the style of greats such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and T-Bone Walker. However, he still credits his father with teaching him to appreciate music in general. After the family of 12 moved to the border
For the Record…
Born on July 20, 1947, in Autlan de Navarro, Mexico; son of Jose (a traditional violinist) and Josefina Santana; adapted religious name Devadip (means “the light of the lamp of the Supreme”), 1973; married Deborah Sara King, 1973; children: Salvador, Stella, Angelica.
Began performing in Tijuana, Mexico, 1961; lead guitarist of group Santana (founded as Santana Blues Band in San Francisco, CA), 1966; recording artist with Columbia/CBS, 1969-91; recording artist with Polydor, 1991; founded Guts and Grace record label, 1994; appeared at Fillmore West, 1968, Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, 1969, Altamont Festival, 1969, California Jamil, 1978, LiveAid, 1985, first Amnesty International concert tour, 1986, Woodstock ’94, 1994; released album Supernatural, which won eight Grammy Awards, 1999; released Shaman, 2002.
Awards: Latin New York Music Awards, Latin Rock Band of the Year, 1975; Bay Area Music Award (Bammy Award), Best Guitarist, 1976-77, 1980-81, 1994-95; Bammy Award, Best Album for Moonflower, 1977; Bammy Award, Best Group, 1980; Grammy Award, Best Rock Instrumental Performance for Blues for Salvador, 1988; Bammy Award, Musician of the Year, 1978, 1988, 1993; Billboard Century Award for distinguished creative achievement, 1996; received star on Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame, 1996; induction, Bay Area Music Awards Walk of Fame, 1997; Chicano Lifetime Achievement Award, 1997; Nosotros’ Golden Eagle Legend in Music Award, 1997; induction, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1998; National Council of La Raza, Alma Award, 1999; Grammy Awards, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, Best Pop Instrumental Performance, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, Best Rock Instrumental Performance, 2000, Best Pop Collaboration, 2003.
Addresses: Publicist—Jensen Communications, Inc., 230 East Union St., Pasadena, CA 91101. Website—Santana Official Website: http://www.santana.com.
town of Tijuana in 1955, he began playing in nightclubs along the strip there when he was just eleven years old.
Around the early 1960s, Santana’s family moved to San Francisco, California, but he soon ran away to return to Tijuana and play the circuit again. His older brother came to retrieve him, though, and he ended up in San Francisco with the rest of his family, where he went to Mission High School and learned English. There he also discovered a thriving cultural scene with a diversity of musical styles, including jazz, blues, international folk music, and classical salsa by the likes of Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri.
While working full-time as a dishwasher in a restaurant, Santana continued to play music, performing on the street for change in the evenings and jamming with others to try to get a band together. With mentoring from Jerry Garcia of the successful hippie group the Grateful Dead, he quit his job. Joining with bassist David Brown and keyboard player Gregg Rolie, he formed the Santana Blues Band, eventually abbreviating the name to simply Santana.
In the thriving scene of the San Francisco area in the 1960s, new bands were sprouting up all the time, so it was not easy to get noticed. For three years, Santana played small clubs around town, particularly in the Mission District, a predominantly Hispanic area. Before long, though, promoter Bill Graham noticed their unique sound and began to book them at his Fillmore West and Winterland clubs. Blending an Afro-Cuban beat with a fast-tempo rock and blues base and low-key vocals, Santana created the new style of Latin Rock.
Although they were approached by several record companies in the late 1960s, the band declined a contract. Therefore, when they played for half a million people at the legendary Woodstock festival in 1969, they did not even have an album out. There, they performed a piece titled “Soul Sacrifice,” written specifically for the event. By now Santana included drummer Mike Shrieve and percussionists Jose Chepito Areas and Mike Carrabello. After getting a warm reception at Woodstock, they were booked on the popular Ed Sullivan Show, then signed to Columbia Records by the end of the year. Their first effort, Santana, stayed on the Billboard charts for two years, eventually selling more than four million copies. It spawned the hits “Evil Ways” and “Jingo.”
The next year, 1970, Santana continued to ride a wave of success, releasing its second hit album, Abraxas. This featured the classic rock staples “Oye Como Va” (written by Tito Puente) and “Black Magic Woman” (penned by Peter Green), and went platinum in sales. In 1971, the group had a gold album with Santana III, and in 1972 it saw platinum again with Caravanserai. Meanwhile, Santana became more fond of jazz, and recorded his first effort without the rest of the band in 1972, pairing up with Buddy Miles. The band also began to experience a shift in members, as musicians came and went from the group. Guitarist Neal Schon had joined in 1971 and later left, along with original member Rolie, to form Journey. Eventually, Santana was the only initial member who remained.
After the much-publicized drug-related deaths of several prominent musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, Santana began to reassess his lifestyle. He had skyrocketed to fame in a short time, like the others, and found himself indulging in the familiar trappings of a rock star, including excesses of drugs and casual sex. Finding a religious path, he became a devoted follower of Sri Chimnoy, a spiritual guru and proponent of meditation. In August of 1973, he changed his name to Devadip (meaning “the light of the lamp of the Supreme”) Carlos Santana. In April of that year, he married Deborah Sara King, founder of a health food shop in San Francisco and daughter of a guitarist known for his work with blues singer Billie Holiday. The couple has three children, Salvador, Stella, and Angelica.
Through his association with Sri Chimnoy, Santana got to know guitarist Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. Together they created a spiritual jazz-fusion album, Love, Devotion, and Surrender, released in 1973. Throughout the 1970s, Santana would release four more albums with spiritual themes, recording without his band but in collaboration with others such as Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter.
By the mid-1970s, Santana began to drift back toward his Latin rock sound. Promoter Graham took over as his manager in 1975, and he began to record again with the group, even though Santana himself found more meaning in his spiritual efforts. Despite the fact that all of the group’s works continued to hit either gold or platinum, they did not have another top-ten hit until 1976’s Amigos. After that, CBS records re-signed San-tana to a seven-album contract.
During the 1980s, Santana and the band recorded less frequently, only putting out five albums throughout the decade. However, they toured prolifically, selling out stadiums and appearing at high-profile events like LiveAid, the US Festival, and on the first Amnesty International concert tour. He also helped organize the “Blues for Salvador” concert in Oakland, California, in 1988, which benefitted children in El Salvador. That year, he won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Blues for Salvador.” 1988 was especially active as he toured with saxophonist Wayne Shorter and also embarked on a tour with the original Santana band members Rolie, Areas, and Shrieve, who had not played together since the early 1970s. In addition, in 1988 he released a 30-song retrospective album which featured previous hits as well as unre-leased studio tracks, live cuts, and sound checks.
Back in 1982, Santana discontinued his association with Sri Chimnoy, and he and his wife converted to Christianity in the early 1990s. In 1992, ending his lengthy association with Columbia, Santana signed a deal with Polydor Records which included forming his own label, called Guts & Grace. John Swenson in Rolling Stone called Santana’s first effort for this label, Milagro, “one of the finest sessions he’s done,” and added, ’The album reaffirms Santana’s position as the standard-bearer for fusion music.” In 1993, he toured with folk icon Bob Dylan, and in 1996, he toured with guitar great Jeff Beck. Though Santana still sold seats, he noticed that radio stations no longer played any of his music besides his early hits, and the media was not paying him much attention. He received a star on the Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame in 1996, but it would take him until 1998 to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Therefore, by the late 1990s, Santana was looking for a comeback. He explained to Andy Ellis in Guitar Player that in his meditation and dreams, he had received instructions telling him the following: “We want you to hook up with people at junior high schools, high schools, and universities. We’re going to get you back into radio airplay.” He felt his music could have a positive effect on youth of the day. Along with producer Clive Davis, who had first signed him to his contract at Columbia in the 1960s, Santana devised a plan. He told David Wild in Rolling Stone, “I didn’t want Santana to sound like a Seventies jukebox. I wanted to be relevant today or as Wayne Shorter would say, ’Completely new, totally familiar.’”
Though many acts were not interested in working with someone they perceived to be old and washed-up, Santana, working with his band, managed to assemble a collection of some of the biggest talents in the industry, including Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Eagle Eye Cherry, Dave Matthews, Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, Evertasi, and the Dust Brothers, producers for Beck and the Beastie Boys. Even Eric Clapton made an appearance. The result was 1999’s Supernatural, which reached number one on the Billboard album chart and generated the number-one single, “Smooth.” Supernatural also became one of the most critically acclaimed CDs of the year and sold 14 million copies by 2003. The title, Santana told an Entertainment Weekly interviewer, “deals with the paranormal relationship between Lauryn Hill, Eric Clapton, and myself. Most of my collaborators said, ’I knew I was going to work with you because you were in my dreams.’” Surprisingly, Supernatural got nearly all of its airplay on pop and rock radio, with little support from Latino stations, despite the fact that five of the tracks are in Spanish.
In February of 2000, Santana won a whopping total of eight Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year for “Smooth,” and Album of the Year and Best Rock Album for Supernatural. He also won an American Music Award that year for Best Album. He waited three years to release Shaman, his follow-up album to the phenomenon that was Supernatural. Santana followed the same blueprint that led them to success with Supernatural, assembling a stellar group of popular musicians to contribute to the album. Musiq, Seal, Michelle Branch, Dido, Placido Domingo, and many others make appearances on the album. All Music Guide reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine praised the album, but noted that with such a large ensemble of players, its success may stem from “reasons that have nothing to do with Santana.”
For Santana, it is not about the recognition as much as it is touching people with his art. “I want my music to clue my listeners into something beyond the song itself,” he once related to Dan Ouellette in Down Beat. “For example, this guy who had considered suicide wrote me a letter. He had seen the video of John Lee Hooker performing ’The Healer’ and it inspired him to seek another way of dealing with his problems. Now that’s more important to me than how many Grammys I get or how much money I could make selling Pepsi.”
(With Buddy Miles) Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live!, Columbia, 1972.
(With Mahavishnu John McLaughlin) Love, Devotion, Surrender, Columbia, 1973.
(With John Coltrane) Illuminations, Columbia, 1974.
Oneness, Silver Dreams-Golden Reality, Columbia, 1979.
Swing of Delight, Columbia, 1980.
Havana Moon, Columbia, 1983.
Blues for Salvador, Columbia, 1987.
Spirits Dancing in the Flesh, CBS, 1990.
With the group Santana
Santana, Columbia, 1969.
Abraxas, Columbia, 1970.
Santana III, Columbia, 1971.
Caravanserai, Columbia, 1972.
Greatest Hits, Columbia, 1974.
Borboletta, Columbia, 1974.
Lotus, Columbia, 1975.
Amigos, Columbia, 1976.
Festival, Columbia, 1976.
Moonflower, CBS, 1977.
Inner Secrets, Columbia, 1978.
Marathon, Columbia, 1979.
Zebop, Columbia, 1981.
Shango, Columbia, 1982.
Beyond Appearances, Columbia, 1985.
Freedom, Columbia, 1987.
Viva Santana!, Columbia, 1988.
The Sound of Carlos Santana, Pair, 1989.
Milagro, Polygram, 1992.
Sacred Fire, Polydor, 1993.
Brothers, Polygram, 1994.
Dance of the Rainbow Serpent, Columbia, 1995.
Live at the Fillmore 1968, Sony, 1997.
Best of Santana, Columbia, 1998.
Supernatural, Arista, 1999.
Shaman, Arista, 2002.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale Research, 1996. Newsmakers, Issue 2, Gale Group, 2000.
Arizona Republic, January 18, 2000, p. A10.
Down Beat, January 1981, p. 13; February 1988, p. 16; August 1991, p. 28.
Entertainment Weekly, September 10,1999, p. 151; December 24, 1999, p. 36; October 25, 2002, p. 73.
Guitar Player, January 1993, p. 58; January 1996, p. 61; August 1999, p. 74.
Hispanic, October 1992, p. 80; March 1996, p. 18.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 22, 2002; October 2, 2002;
Latin Beat, September 1999, p. 20.
Music & Media, November 9, 2002, p.3.
Newsweek, February 14, 2000, p. 66.
Rolling Stone, February 21, 1980, p. 26; September 22, 1988, p. 27; August 24,1989, p. 65; September 3, 1992, p. 68; December 9, 1993, p. 24; October 28, 1993, p. 30; August r9, 1993, p. 47.
Star Tribune(Minneapolis, MN), February 8, 2000.
Santana Official Website, http://www.santana.com (July 7, 2003).
”Shaman,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (July 1, 2003).
Born: Autlan de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico, 20 July 1947
Best-selling album since 1990: Supernatural (1999)
Hit songs since 1990: "Smooth," "Maria, Maria," "The Game of Love"
Guitarist Carlos Santana is one of the surviving electric-guitar "gods" who descended on rock in the late 1960s. Known for wresting a rainbow of sounds from the instrument, Santana set himself apart from contemporaries by pioneering a well-received Latin-influenced rock sound. Additionally, his strong spiritual beliefs have added mystical elements to his music. Santana's career met incredible success as the new millennium began.
To Woodstock through Tijuana
Santana's major musical influences were his father, who was a professional violinist in a mariachi band, and the bustling nightclubs of Tijuana, Mexico, where his family settled in the 1950s. As a child, Santana understood that his life's purpose would be music, and after dabbling initially with the violin, he put it down to concentrate on guitar. Santana gained valuable experience playing 1950s American blues and rock in Tijuana before moving to San Francisco, California, in 1963 to join his family, who had settled there in 1961. In San Francisco, Santana found a burgeoning musical scene, rich in many styles, including psychedelic rock, blues, folk, and Latin jazz. He formed the Santana Blues Band and they stood out among a flood of bands in the city's musical overflow by fusing Latin rhythms with elements of blues and jazz to become a local favorite of the growing hippie culture. The band, whose name was shortened to Santana, also caught the ear of illustrious promoter, Bill Graham, and he quickly elevated their status by booking them into his famous concert arena, the Fillmore West. Although interest in Santana (the band) by record companies was already abundant, they waited until their triumphant exposure at the renowned Woodstock concert in 1969 to talk business. They captivated the 500,000 concertgoers with a driving jam of, "Soul Sacrifice" and afterward signed with Columbia Records. Santana began recording a string of successful albums, which included hit songs such as "Black Magic Woman," "Evil Ways," "Everybody's Everything," and "Oye Como Va." The band went through several personnel changes after the third album, Santana III (1970), and began influencing their sound with more jazz, picking up jazz drummer extraordinaire, Buddy Miles, for the next three albums.
Meanwhile, Carlos, who had catapulted to stardom in a very short time, grew increasingly distressed over the casualties of rock music's excessive trappings, particularly the substance abuse. The deaths of rock notables such as Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, in addition to guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman, forced him to rethink his lifestyle. He sought spiritual guidance from Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, which linked him with fellow Chinmoy devotee, guitar whiz Jon McLaughlin. They collaborated on the jazz-inclined and spiritually filled Love, Devotion and Surrender (1973). Santana stopped following Chin-moy in 1982 but remains very open about spirituality and his journey to serve a higher power with his music.
Eventually the name Santana became synonymous with both the band and the guitarist as he continued to tour and record throughout the 1970s and 1980s, backed up by a revolving cast of supporting players. While his ensuing recording efforts continued to do well, none of them reaped the commercial success of the first three. However, Santana toured extensively throughout the 1980s and remained a huge concert draw wherever he played.
A Supernatural Success
After the release of Spirits Dancing in the Flesh (1990), Santana switched record labels, hoping to infuse his recording career with increased spiritual breadth and commercial success. His next album, Milagro (1992), is dedicated to Bill Graham and celebrated jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Milagro received positive critical acclaim and further defined Santana's unique rock sound, which some classify under the recently coined genre "world music." However, Santana brought his ethnically fused sound into rock well before there was any name for it. Only a handful of rock guitarists—Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and the late guitarists Roy Buchannon and Jimi Hendrix—seem truly as "one" with their instrument as Santana. His fretwork combines smooth speed with impeccable taste and whether ferocious or simple, it always seems perfectly placed. His guitar hangs slightly higher than most rock players wear theirs, especially some of the strutting greats such as Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Joe Perry, and he cradles and coerces notes from it as if it were a fluid object. Santana's playing is blues informed, but he shifts easily into melodic major scales or the abandon of free-formed jazz as heard in his work with McLaughlin. Only Beck competes in musical range.
Santana included his brother, guitarist Jorge Santana, and a nephew on Santana Brothers (1994) and then waited five years before releasing his next recording. This marked a period during which Santana seemed to be gliding gracefully off into the sunset. He did tours with other legends like Bob Dylan and Beck while revisiting Woodstock in 1994 for the Woodstock II reunion concert. He was a special guest on blues great John Lee Hooker's hit album Chill Out (1995) and watched in wonderment, like many others, as the elderly Hooker enjoyed the greatest success of his career. Santana was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1996 and in 1998 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Prior to the release of Supernatural (1999), Santana spoke of a dream in which he saw himself working with a younger set of players. (Santana may also have been dreaming about John Lee Hooker's success.) Afterward, he informed his record company that he was not content with merely rehashing his old sound. Santana wanted to push forward with a new pop sound and embark on a mission to spread his gift and spiritual message to a wider, younger audience. Using the recipe of success du jour—teaming legends with up-and-comers—Santana co-wrote and performed with Dave Matthews, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Rob Thomas of matchbox twenty. The results were staggeringly successful. Supernatural went on to sell more than 11 million copies and serve up a megahit, the salsa-styled "Smooth," which Thomas sings. Santana's guitar work is riveting, full of rich tones that enhance and blend with the album's vocals and rise majestically in the solos. Santana took very little credit for his accomplishment and instead attributed it to the positive vibe from his fellow performers and a spiritual power. The ever-modest Santana filled his arms with nine Grammy Awards for Supernatural, including Album of the Year in 2000. In his thirty-plus-year career, Santana had won only one other Grammy, in 1988, for Best Rock Instrumental on Blues for Salvador (1988).
It would be hard to imagine Santana's heavenly success with Supernatural as anything but a career peak. In his follow-up album, Shaman (2002), he continued to bridge music cultures with a Latin-funk sound. Again, Santana features several guest stars, most notably opera star Plácido Domingo. Thomas does not perform on this album, but he wrote several songs and Michelle Branch sings the album's single, "The Game of Love." Branch appeared with Santana at the pregame musical extravaganza for the 2003 Super Bowl.
In an industry rife with selfishness and brash behavior, Santana is a refreshingly humble, good-natured soul, someone more concerned about humanity than album sales. Long respected as a godlike guitar player, Santana prefers to think of his guitar's luminosity as a direct link to a higher power.
Santana (Columbia, 1969); Abraxas (Columbia, 1970); Santana III (Columbia, 1971); Caravanserai (Columbia, 1972); Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live! (Columbia, 1972); Love, Devotion, Surrender (Columbia, 1973); Lotus (Columbia, 1975); Moonflower (Columbia, 1977); Zebop (Columbia, 1981); Havana Moon (Columbia, 1983); Freedom (Columbia, 1987); Blues for Salvador (Columbia, 1987); Spirits Dancing in the Flesh (Columbia, 1990); Milagro (Polydor, 1992); Sacred Fire (Polydor, 1993); Santana Brothers (Polygram, 1994); Supernatural (Arista, 1999); Divine Light (Arista, 2001); Shaman (Arista, 2002).
Spot Light: Santana's Milagro Foundation
Carlos Santana is an artist who believes that it is his responsibility to use music to help the world. In 1998 Santana and his wife Deborah, in response to the many requests that they receive for donations to help those in need, formed the Milagro Foundation. (Milagro means "miracle.") With the help of a board of directors, the Milagro Foundation uses funds secured from concert proceeds and individual or corporate donations to assist children of all ages who are deemed to be at risk or in need of supportive intervention, providing education, arts programs, and health services throughout the world. The foundation supplies countless grass-roots organizations (nonprofit groups functioning on a budget of less than $1 million) with stipends of up to $10,000.
M. Shapiro, Carlos Santana: Back on Top (New York, 2000); S. Leng, Soul Sacrifice: The Story of Santana (London, 2000).
Selena (1971-1995), often called the "The Mexican Madonna, " was from very humble beginnings but used her raw talent and sultry voice to become one of popular music's fastest rising stars. Although cut down very early in her career as she was preparing to make the transition from Spanish-language to English-language chart success, her legacy has been one of ever broader exposure for Tejano music and the artists that create it.
Selena Quintanilla-Perez was born on April 16, 1971 to Abraham, Jr. and Marcella Quintanilla in Lake Jackson, Texas, where her father worked as a shipping clerk for Dow Chemical Company. Her father had led a band in the 1950s and 1960s called Los Dinos (Spanish for "the boys") that played early rock 'n' roll favorites mixed with traditional Mexican music. This music would later be called Tex-Mex or Tejano music and, with its three-part vocal harmonies and accordion and horn sections, would became very popular throughout the southwest United States and Mexico. Abraham eventually gave up his music career to settle down and start a family.
Selena, the youngest of the three Quintanilla children, attended O.M. Roberts Elementary School in Lake Jackson, a small town approximately 55 miles south of Houston, Texas, and soon showed a flair for entertaining. When she was six years-old, her father noticed her talent while teaching her older brother, Abraham III, to play a few chords on a guitar and Selena broke out into song. Her father soon converted the family garage into a music studio where her brother played bass guitar and her sister, Suzette, played drums while Selena sang.
The family band practiced almost every day after school and in 1980, her father left his job at Dow Chemical Company and opened a restaurant, Papagayo's, in Lake Jackson. The restaurant had a small stage and dance floor where the band would play on weekends. The band, now called "Selena y Los Dinos, " or "Selena and The Boys, " eventually added two guitarists and a keyboard player and garnered a local following of fans.
Initially concentrating on English pop songs and old Spanish favorites, her father soon began to write original Spanish-language songs for the band to perform. Selena's first language was English, and she had to learn the words to the Spanish-language songs phonetically. In only a few years though, the Texas oil industry dried up and so did the family restaurant's business. Her father moved the family to his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas and began taking them on long road trips criss-crossing the state to perform their music. Selena often missed classes at West Oso Junior High School in Corpus Christi due to her touring with the band. Her father pulled her from classes permanently when she was in the eighth grade so that she could concentrate music. She took correspondence courses through the American School in Chicago, the same school that educated the Osmond family, and earned her General Education Diploma (GED) in 1989.
The constant touring paid off with an opening slot for the Tejano band, Mazz, at the Angleton, Texas fairgrounds in 1983. Mazz was one of the most popular Tejano acts of the time and Selena, only eleven-years-old, took the stage by storm, putting on a show impressed the assembled crowd.
Taking time out from touring and opening up for other more established Tejano bands, Selena recorded Mis Primeras Grabaciones in 1984 for Corpus Christi's Freddie label. Freddie was one of the oldest and most established Spanish-language record companies in Texas, but the album and its only single, Ya Se Va, did not sell well. Within a year the band had moved to the Cara label and then to the Manny label. Selena's albums for Manny did not sell much better than before and the band continued to tour, living in a van while they traveled around the southwest United States opening for larger Tejano acts and playing shows at small clubs and fairgrounds.
Due to the diverse crowds that the band played to, they learned to perform many different styles of music, rhythm and blues-based music for audiences in the larger cities, like Houston, and more traditional accordion-style Tejano music for fans in the small western Texas crowds they performed for. In 1988, Selena was popular enough among Tejano fans that she was voted the female artist of the year at the Tejano Music Awards in San Antonio, Texas. She would go on to win this award consecutively for the next seven years as her popularity increased every year.
In 1989, Selena was signed to EMI Records and suddenly she had the weight and distribution system behind her to make her a giant star. She was spotted by the head of the label's new Latin music division, Jose Behar, as she performed at the Tejano Music Awards. Upon first spotting Selena, Behar knew that she could be a great cross-over artist, appealing not only to traditional fans of Tejano music, but also to the larger pop music market in the rest of the United States. Selena would be the first artist signed by Behar and in 1991, her duet with Alvaro Torres, Buenos Amigos, became her breakthrough hit. The song went to number one on Billboard's Latin chart and introduced her to audiences throughout the United States. Her next hit song, Donde Quiero Que Estes, would also be a duet, this time with the Latin group the Barrio Boyzz.
Donde Quiero Que Estes was more tropical-influenced than most traditional Tejano music, and this song exposed Selena to an even wider market. On April 2, 1992, Selena married 22-year-old Christopher Perez, the lead guitarist for her band and they soon moved into a house in the La Molina neighborhood of Corpus Christi between her parents and her brother's family.
In the early 1990s, Selena's biggest following had begun to be in Mexico. This was due to the more international sound of the songs that her father was now writing for her to perform. The songs had an Afro-Caribbean sound that more-traditional Tejano artists shied away from, but which Selena accepted with open arms. These new songs were not only popular in Mexico, but also began to be heard throughout the United States in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and even outside its borders in South and Central America. This wider audience soon came to be reflected in the size of the crowds that she attracted to her shows.
In February of 1993, Selena performed for a record crowd of 57, 894 at the Houston Astrodome. One year later, on February 1994, she would break her own record, as 60, 948 came to the Astrodome to see her perform during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. In August of 1993, a crowd of over 20, 000 watched her perform in Pasadena, California, an area that she had previously been almost unknown in. In March of 1994, her album Selena Live won a Grammy award for the best Mexican-American album.
In July of 1994, Selena released Amor Prohibido. Amor Prohibido would give Selena four number one singles and replaced Gloria Estefan's Mi Tierra as the top Latin selling album of that year. The album would go on to sell over a million copies worldwide and led to Selena being listed as one of the most successful Latin entertainers in the world by Hispanic Business Magazine and winning the Tejano Music Award's album of the year.
Posthumous English-Language Success
In December of 1993 Selena was moved to EMI's SBK label. SBK was primarily an English-language label, and Selena was eager to make an album in her first language. Often compared to other English-language artists such as Madonna, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, Selena was enthusiastic about having the same kinds of success that these artists had. She began recording English-language songs for her new album and continued touring throughout 1994 and 1995. On February 26, 1995, Selena would set the third straight record for attendance at the Houston Astrodome when an audience of 61, 041 saw her perform on-stage alongside Emilio Navaira, the Tejano Music Awards male vocalist for that year.
On March 31, 1995, Selena was shot and killed by the president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldívar, in a hotel room in Corpus Christi, shortly after a confrontation about missing business funds. (Saldívar was later convicted of murder but has since proclaimed her innocence). Dreaming of You, the album released posthumously in 1996, contained five tracks sung in English as well as remixes by her father of Bidi Bidi Bom Bom, Como la Flor, Techno Cumbia and Amor Prohibido. The album also featured two tracks with Selena singing traditional Tejano songs alongside a Mexican mariachi band and God's Child, a song she recorded in 1994 alongside musician David Byrne for the motion picture Don Juan DeMarco, in which she had a small role. The album went straight to the number one spot on the Billboard chart and sold over a million copies. The crossover success that Selena had always hoped for had finally come and the album's success brought Tejano music to millions of fans who previously knew nothing about this genre of music.
Houston Chronicle, April 1, 1995.
New York Times, July 27, 1995; July 30, 1995.
People, April 17, 1995.
Washington Post, April 1, 1995; April 2, 1995.
"Selena, " Selena -the Movie,http://www.selena-themovie.com/main.html (April 28, 1998).
"Selena's Page, " The Unofficial Selena's Web Site,http://www.ondanet.com:1995/tejano/selena.html (April 28, 1998).
The Selena Foundation,http://www.neosoft.com/selena/ (April 28, 1998).
(b. 16 April 1971 in Lake Jackson, Texas; d. 31 March 1995 in Corpus Christi, Texas), tejana (Texas Mexican) singer murdered at age twenty-three, just as she attained international fame and fortune.
Selena Quintanilla Pérez was one of the three children of Abraham (“Abe”) Quintanilla, Jr., a singer, and Marcella Samora, a homemaker. Growing up in a devout Jehovah’s Witness household, Selena and her siblings spent most of their early years in and around Lake Jackson and Corpus Christi, Texas, moving constantly from home to home. Selena’s father held a series of menial, short-term, and usually dead-end jobs that barely fed the family and paid the rent. His energy and passion were spent listening to and arranging his own music and teaching his children how to sing and play musical instruments.
Known to friends as “Abe,” Selena’s father had dreamed of a life as a singer and music producer since about the age of eleven. In 1957, when he was only fourteen years of age, Abe joined the Dions, a three-person band, along with Seff Perales and Bobby Lira. Singing four-part harmonies in three parts and imitating the popular doowop style of Dion and the Belmonts, the Dions performed at sock hops, weddings, and proms throughout South Texas. By 1961, when the Dions temporarily disbanded because Abe was drafted into the military, they had recorded ten singles and were enjoying local musical fame. Discharged from the service in 1964, Abe returned with his family to Corpus Christi to resume his musical career. At the behest of local record producers, the Dions changed their name to Los Dinos and started singing in Spanish for Texas Mexican audiences. But despite twenty-six recordings, the group developed only a local following. Frustrated, Abe quit the band in 1969 and moved to Lake Jackson, where his parents lived.
Having failed as a singer, Abe poured his energy into his children, hoping that someday they would become music stars. By the time Selena was six years old Abe had organized his children into a garage band. Selena sang, accompanied by her brother “AB” on bass guitar and her sister Suzette on the drums. Many who heard Selena sing at this young age realized her potential. By age eight she was winning talent contests at county fairs and with her siblings was performing at weddings, birthdays, and parties.
In 1980 Abraham Quintanilla opened the Papa Gayo restaurant in Lake Jackson, primarily as a singing venue for his nine-year-old daughter Selena. The restaurant failed in March 1981, but it sparked Selena’s singing career in South Texas. Word spread of her Spanish-language músicatejana and Los Dinos family band, which in 1980 expanded, adding Rena Dearman on keyboard and Rodney Pyeatt on guitar.
Impressed by Selena’s voice, Freddie Martinez, the owner of Freddie Records in Corpus Christi, produced her first singles in 1983. Those recordings later appeared as a cassette album titled Selena y los Dittos (1984) and was eventually reissued in compact disc as Mis Primeras Grabaciones (1995). In 1983 Dearman and Pyeatt left Los Dinos. They were replaced by Mike Dean on keyboard and Del Balint on guitar, who in 1985 were replaced by Ricky Vela and Roger García.
When Selena was fifteen years old, two of her 1986 recordings, “Dame Un Beso” and “A Million to One,” became regional hits, receiving considerable radio play throughout Texas and earning her a magazine cover story in Tejano Entertainer. The following year she was named Female Entertainer of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards in San Antonio on the basis of those two songs. The release of her rendition of the Mexican song “La Bamba” in the summer of 1987 garnered a national audience when the recording hit the Billboard Latin chart on 8 August and ultimately rose to number twenty. Two years later Selena was named Female Entertainer of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year at the 1989 Tejano Music Awards. A lucrative recording contract with Capitol—EMI Latin Records followed shortly, as did an extensive endorsement contract with Coca-Cola.
Executives at Capitol—EMI Latin Records believed that for Selena to become a star of global fame she first had to break into the international Spanish-language market in Latin America. Then she would return to the United States with English crossover songs. With her 1990 hit “Baila Esta Cumbia” on her album Ven Conmigo, Selena did just that, getting considerable airplay in Mexico. In addition her revealing outfits quickly transformed her into a popular sex symbol, the Madonna-like singing sensation of the Spanish-speaking world. A sultry siren with cinnamon-colored skin, Selena accentuated her well-proportioned figure with tight-fitting leather pants and bejeweled bustiers that left her midriff exposed.
During production of Ven Conmigo, Chris Pérez was hired to play guitar with Selena and Los Dinos. Before long Selena was smitten by him. Pérez and Selena clandestinely married on 2 April 1992, knowing that her father would object because marriage might lessen her sex appeal among fans.
Ven Conmigo became a major recording success. Selling some 300,000 copies, it brought Selena a fan club headed by Yolanda Saldivar and enough cash to begin a clothing and jewelry design line, Fashions by Selena. By 1992 Saldivar had become Selena’s confidante and manager of Selena, Etc., a salon and boutique that opened in Corpus Christi early in 1994. Also in 1994 her album Selena Live won a Grammy in the Best Mexican American Performance category and quickly sold more than 2 million copies, gaining a double platinum award. Her next album, Amor Prohibido, climbed to the top of the Billboard Latin fifty chart and stayed there for forty-eight weeks, winning quadruple platinum honors.
While Selena sold an unprecedented number of albums and garnered awards, fans, and prestigious engagements, her boutique and fashion designs were failing. Martín Gómez, Selena’s designer, complained to Abe that Saldivar was seriously mismanaging the business and perhaps even embezzling company funds. Concerned about these allegations, Abe confronted Saldivar on 9 March 1995 and demanded her resignation. She refused. The next day Saldivar purchased a .38-caliber revolver in response to Abe’s threats.
By 30 March 1995 Selena was convinced that she had to fire her close friend. She called Saldivar, who was staying at the Days Inn in Corpus Christi, and demanded a meeting to transfer all business records. Saldivar handed over only a portion of them. When Selena discovered that crucial ledgers were missing, she confronted Saldivar the next morning, 31 March, and they quarreled at the Days Inn. Saldivar pulled out her gun and pointed it at her own head. Frightened by the gun, Selena fled the room, and as she did a bullet hit her right shoulder. Saldivar claimed that the gun went off accidentally. Two hours later, at 1:05 P.M., Selena was pronounced dead from internal bleeding and cardiac arrest. She is buried in Corpus Christi.
At the Days Inn, Saldivar barricaded herself in the cab of her truck for ten hours, pointing a gun at her head. She claimed the shooting was accidental and denounced Abraham Quintanilla as responsible for Selena’s shooting. In her statement to police later that night, Saldivar claimed that her relationship with Selena had soured in February 1995, when Abe told Selena “that I was a lesbian [and] … that I was stealing money from the company.”
A massive outpouring of popular sentiment followed for the tejana pop star whose career was so tragically cut short at the age of twenty-three. In late November 1995 Saldivar was found guilty of Selena’s murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Selena’s posthumous album brought her the crossover English audience she had long sought. Dreaming of You, which includes “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” “Technocumbia,” “Dreaming of You,” and “I Could Fall in Love,” sold more than 3 million copies to become a best-seller. Her tragic death brought her the international fame she had worked for all her life.
For further information on Selena see Gordon Randolph Willey, Selena (1993); Himilce Novas and Rosemary Silva, Remembering Selena: A Tribute in Pictures and Words (Recordando a Selena: Un tributo en palabras) (1995); Barbara J. Marvis, Contemporary American Success Stories: Famous People of Hispanic Heritage (1996); Joe Nick Patoski, Selena: Como la Flor (1996); María Celeste Arrarás, Selena’s Secret: The Revealing Story Behind Her Tragic Death (1997); Marvis, Selena (1998); and Veda Boyd Jones, Selena (1999). An obituary is in the New York Times (1 Apr. 1995). Gregory Nava directed the movie Selena (1997). EMI-Latin produced the videocassette Selena Remembered (1997), and Wendy Greene and Rachel Hanfling produced the videocassettellmen Justice: Selena, Murder of a Star (1998).
RamÓn A. GutiÉrrez
Often called the "Mexican Madonna," Selena used her talent and voice to become one of popular music's fastest rising stars. Although she was murdered very early in her career, she brought great exposure to Tejano, or Tex-Mex, music.
A musical family
Selena Quintanilla-Perez was born on April 16, 1971, in Lake Jackson, Texas. Her parents were Abraham Jr. and Marcella Quintanilla. Her father had led a band in the 1950s and 1960s that played early rock and roll songs mixed with traditional Mexican music. This music, later called Tejano music, would become very popular throughout the southwest United States and Mexico. Abraham eventually gave up his music career to start a family.
Selena was the youngest of the three Quintanilla children. She attended elementary school in Lake Jackson, a small town about fifty-five miles south of Houston, Texas. When she was six years old, her father saw her talent. He was teaching her older brother, Abraham III, to play guitar when Selena began to sing. The children formed a family band. They practiced almost every day.
"Selena and the Boys"
In 1980 Selena's father opened a restaurant. The family band, called Selena y Los Dinos, would play there on weekends and at weddings and parties. Her father began to write original Spanish-language songs for the band to perform. Since Selena's first language was English, she had to learn the words to the Spanish-language songs syllable by syllable. They had many local fans, but the family restaurant failed and closed down. Her father moved the family to his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, to start over again.
Traveling all over the state, the band continued to perform their music. The concert touring paid off when the band opened for a popular Tejano act called Mazz. At age eleven, Selena took the stage by storm and the crowd loved her. At this time, Selena focused on her music but often missed classes and stopped going to school for good when she was in the eighth grade. To keep up with her schooling, she took courses through the American School in Chicago. She eventually earned her General Education Diploma (GED) in 1989, which is the same as earning a high school diploma.
Selena took some time out from touring to record music. For Corpus Christi's Freddie label, Selena recorded Mis Primeras Grabaciones in 1984. Freddie was one of the oldest and most established Spanish-language record companies in Texas. The album and its only single, "Ya Se Va," did not sell well. Switching to Cara and Manny record labels, Selena's albums did not sell much better. Living in a van, the band continued to tour by opening for larger Tejano acts in the southwest United States.
For larger and larger audiences, the band learned to play many different styles of music. They played rhythm-and-blues-based music in larger cities. They played more traditional Tejano music in small Texas towns. In 1988 Selena was popular enough that she was voted the female artist of the year at the Tejano Music Awards. She would win this award again for the next seven years. Her popularity increased every year.
In 1989 Selena joined EMI Records. She suddenly had a major record company supporting her. José Behar, the head of the company's new Latin music division, knew that she could appeal to a very wide audience, not just Tejano fans. In 1991 her song with Alvaro Torres, called "Buenos Amigos," became a hit. The song went to number one on Billboard 's Latin chart and introduced her to audiences throughout the United States. With her next hit song, "Donde Quiero Que Estes," Selena continued to grow in popularity and reach wider and wider markets for her music.
The early 1990s included many bright spots in Selena's music and personal life. On April 2, 1992, Selena married twenty-two-year-old Christopher Perez. He was the lead guitarist in her band. Together they shared in the success and in Selena's growing popularity, particularly in Mexico. Her father was now writing more international-sounding songs for her. These new songs were not only popular in Mexico but also began to be heard throughout the United States and in South and Central America. The size of the audiences at her shows swelled. In February 1994 more than sixty thousand people saw her perform in Houston. In March 1994 her album Selena Live won a Grammy Award for the best Mexican American album.
Selena's growing fame also increased record sales. In July 1994 Selena released Amor Prohibido. The album would sell more than one million copies. It was the top selling Latin album of that year. It also was named the Tejano Music Award's album of the year.
Selena was often compared with other English-language artists such as Madonna (1958–), Janet Jackson (1966–), and Mariah Carey (1969–). She was eager to make an album in her first language so that she could have the same kind of success that these artists had. In December 1993 Selena was moved to a record company that made mostly English-language records. She began recording English-language songs for a new album and continued performing.
On March 31, 1995, Selena was shot and killed by the president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldívar (1960–). Millions mourned her death and with this attention she became even more famous. Dreaming of You, the album released after her death in 1996, contained five songs sung in English. It also contained a number of traditional Tejano songs. The album was a huge hit and sold more than a million copies. It was the wide success that Selena had always hoped for. The album also introduced Tejano music to millions of new fans. At the Houston Astrodome, a place she often performed, she was honored with a memorial concert. A movie was made about her life, starring Jennifer Lopez (1970–), a year later.
For More Information
Arrarás, María Celeste. Selena's Secret: The Revealing Story Behind Her Tragic Death. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Jones, Veda Boyd. Selena. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.
Marvis, Barbara J. Selena. Childs, MD: Mitchell Lane, 1998.
Wheeler, Jill C. Selena: The Queen of Tejano. Edina, MN: Abdo & Daughters, 1996.
Best-selling album since 1990: Dreaming of You (1995)
Hit songs since 1990: "Como la Flor," "Amor Prohibido," "I Could Fall in Love"
Selena's great talent was her ability to reinvent the basic Mexican cumbia rhythm, turning it into a keyboard-driven dance party. Her tejano/pop hits crackled with catchy hooks, sing-along choruses, the celebratory improvisations of salsa, and even the sweaty jump fever of reggae.
The cumbia, known for its staccato, midtempo beat, spread to Mexico beginning in the 1960s and soon became one of the most popular rhythms in regional Mexican and Tejano music. Tejano is Spanish for "from Texas" and refers to Mexican-Americans born in Texas. The music genre that bears its name uses polka and cumbia as the rhythmic base but borrows from many Mexican and American styles, including hip-hop, jazz, country, and mariachi.
Selena began her career at age eleven, when her father encouraged her, her sister Suzette, and her brother A.B. to form a band, Selena y los Dinos. By the time their album Ven Conmigo (1990) came out, the group, which by then called itself simply Selena, had evolved a rhythmic style that demonstrated its increasing ability to create catchy cumbias such as "Baila Esta Cumbia" and the title track. Selena began pouring more emotion and soul into her music. On the next album, Entre a Mi Mundo (1992), the band took a page from the sax-cumbia-meister Fito Olivares, producing the marvelous "La Carcacha," which was marked by what became the group's signature style: danceable tunes that moved the feet but also poked fun at life in the barrio. A.B. was improving as a songwriter, developing a penchant for power-pop, synth-driven cumbias.
On April 2, 1992, Selena married the band's guitarist, Chris Pérez, in Corpus Christi, Texas. The following year she won a Grammy for her Selena Live CD. In the spring of 1994, the album was still riding the charts when Amor Prohibido was released. It was the band's crowning achievement, hinting at the pop potential of a band at its creative peak.
During 1994 Selena played to packed stadiums and festivals across the United States and Mexico. Commercially and artistically, she was indisputably the queen of Tejano music—no one else came close. Not only did she possess looks and dance moves that few others could match, but she also had a songwriting team—A.B., the backup vocalist Pete Astudillo, and the keyboardist Ricky Vela—that kept her supplied with top-notch original material.
Spot Light: Amor Prohibido
Amor Prohibido, Selena's last complete studio album, showcases the singer and her team at their best. "Fotos y Recuerdos," a Spanish version of the Pretenders' "Back in the Chain Gang," is an inspired piece. That song—along with Selena's original "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom," a reggae-tinged tune—could have easily worked in European clubs because it is almost indistinguishable from the Euro-pop dance tunes on the radio. "No Me Queda Más," written by the Dinos keyboardist Ricky Vela, is another unforgettable work, a touching song about finding the strength to walk away from a romance. Selena fully conveys the pain of love and the tone of redemption.
Tejano music has traditionally been a singles-oriented genre, with more emphasis on creating a few catchy songs for radio and sticking to a yearly release schedule than attaining high concept. Nevertheless, Amor Prohibido features strong tracks like the hip-hop inspired "Techno Cumbia" and the torchy "Si Una Vez," an adventurous juxtaposition of cumbia beats with mariachi backing.
Amor Prohibido briefly charted on the Billboard 200 in the spring of 1994, becoming the first Tejano album to do so. After Selena's death, it rose all the way to number twenty-nine and sold more than 2 million copies, making it the best-selling Tejano album of the 1990s.
On February 26, 1995, Selena performed for more than 61,000 fans at the Houston Stock Show and Rodeo. Busy recording her English crossover debut, the band took a rare month off from touring. Then disaster struck. On March 31, 1995, less than three weeks shy of her twenty-fourth birthday, Selena was shot and killed by Yolanda Saldivar, the former president of her fan club, in a Corpus Christi motel. In a scene reminiscent of Elvis's funeral at Graceland, more than 30,000 fans filed past Selena's casket at the Bayfront Plaza Convention Center.
Four months after Selena's death, EMI Records released the crossover album Dreaming of You. The CD included three original English tracks and several previously released but newly rearranged hits. With the singles "I Could Fall in Love" and "Dreaming of You" garnering nationwide Top 40 airplay, the country got just a hint of what Selena would have accomplished had she lived.
In 1997, the Gregory Nava–directed biopic Selena hit theaters, starring Jennifer Lopez. The role foreshadowed Lopez's own stellar music career. At her concerts, Lopez pays tribute to the woman she portrayed, performing a touching Selena medley. Despite the tragic brevity of her career, Selena will be making an impact on Tejano music for decades to come as she inspires countless young Latinas to follow their artistic dreams.
Mis Primeras Grabaciones (Freddie, 1984); Ven Conmigo (EMI Latin, 1990); Entre a Mi Mundo (EMI Latin, 1992); Amor Prohibido (EMI Latin, 1994); Dreaming of You (EMI Latin, 1995).
Selena ★★½ 1996 (PG)
Lopez is appealing in the title role of the 23-year-old Tejano superstar singer who was just breaking into international prominence when she was murdered by the president of her fan club in 1995. Flashbacks show dad Abraham's (Olmos) dashed musical aspirations and he serves as a stage father to his children, recognizing his daughter Selena's exceptional voice. Film covers her marriage to guitarist Chris Perez (Seda) and her building success until the final tragedy (which isn't shown). Film concludes with concert footage of the real Selena. 127m/C VHS, DVD . Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Jon Seda, Constance Marie, Jacob Vargas, Lupe Ontiveros, Jackie Guerra, Sal Lopez, Rebecca Lee Mezza; D: Gregory Nava; W: Gregory Nava; C: Edward Lachman; M: Dave Grusin.