The song: "Amor Prohibido," a smooth, stylishly produced pop-cumbia about lovers from opposite sides of the societal spectrum. The artist: Selena, whose effortless performance underscores the tune's immediate appeal. The year: 1994, a pivotal 12 months in the evolution of Selena from Tejano singer to international Latin pop vocalist.
"Amor Prohibido" and its accompanying album of the same name cemented Selena's transformation. The Queen of Tejano ventured beyond her South Texas roots into new touring markets: Argentina, Central America, the Dominican Republic, New York City and Puerto Rico, thanks in part to an urban-savvy hit duet with native sons the Barrio Boyzz titled "Donde Quiera Que Estés."
Then, as she was poised for worldwide fame, Selena Quintanilla Perez's life was cut short. Twenty years ago, on March 31, 1995, she was murdered at a Corpus Christi motel by Yolanda Saldivar, her fan club president, who is serving a life sentence.
This Thursday would have been Selena's 44th birthday, and her hometown of Corpus Christi will celebrate with the Fiesta de la Flor music event on Friday and Saturday.
The body of work she left behind, including four studio CDs, one live concert effort and a posthumous English-language crossover album she began recording before her death, keep her memory alive today and the focus on her work, rather than the media-grabbing attention surrounding her death.
She had the whole package - the it-factor, in industry parlance. Her music sailed beyond Tejano by blending Latin pop, rock, street-savvy R&B, salsa, reggae and even dashes of techno. Selena had a genuine, infectious personality that engaged everybody onstage and off.
She had fashion acumen highlighted by trademark bustiers, form-fitting jumpsuits and mini jackets. It's no wonder she started a clothing line and opened two boutiques, Selena Etc., in Corpus Christi and San Antonio.
"Because of the talent she had, vocally and personally, it evolved a lot faster than anybody anticipated," said John Ortiz, who spent nine years as director of promotions at EMI Latin during Selena's rise. "Months before she was killed, we were all strategizing on expanding her audience beyond Tejano and Mexico."
She made good on the promise of her previous studio effort, 1992's Entre a Mi Mundo, a record squarely aimed at introducing her to international audiences.
That third album for EMI Latin, then based in San Antonio, banked on three key components. "Como La Flor," still considered Selena's signature song, combined her supple voice, penchant for rhythmic pop-cumbia and sterling production. Bebu Silvetti, the late Argentine musician and record producer best known for the 1977 instrumental disco staple "Spring Rain," was brought in to assist Selena's brother, A.B. Quintanilla III, on the production side.
(Selena's family - father Abraham Quintanilla, A.B. Quintanilla III, sister Suzette Quintanilla and husband Chris Perez - declined to be interviewed for this story.)
"Her body of work lives forever due to its crossover appeal, its delivery on production by A.B. and family," said Dallas-based Rikki Rincón, who worked with Selena during the late 1980s and '90s while Rincón was a local DJ and promoter in clubs and venues where she was a concert draw. "Selena was more than Tejano, more than cumbia, she was an overall pop star. Her live shows, coupled with her trendy fashion and humble personality, all made up her appeal that today truly keeps her iconic."
Not to mention influential. Selena was an obvious influence on Jennifer Peña, who launched her career as an adolescent with Q Productions, the family's longtime company; and Jennifer Lopez, who played Selena in the hit biopic. Also, you can see bits of Selena in the look and mannerisms of Shakira, Paulina Rubio, Thalía, Nelly Furtado, Christina Aguilera and many others.
Selena's posthumous album, Dreaming of You, only hinted at her potential as a crossover star. That album "clearly displayed her right to be among the very best talent, and had she been with us today there is no doubt in my mind the level of her career would be global," Rincón said.
There is no greater tribute to her continued relevance, above and beyond the outpouring of love from devoted fans who named their daughters after her, than the fact that Tejano lives and breathes today two decades after the death of its queen.
"Her memory kept Tejano alive and well in the hearts of her fans," Rincón said.
It all comes right back to the music, especially "Amor Prohibido," a song that has surpassed the million-performance mark, according to performing rights organization BMI.
"She continues to not only be relevant as an artist, but she continues to grow," Ortiz said, referring to the different things she did on her songs. "When it came to production, Abraham, A.B. and Selena were totally ahead of the game. That allows her music to sound timeless."
"Amor Prohibido," just like Selena, endures.
Mario Tarradell is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covered Selena as The News' music critic.