When Tom Brokaw referred to Selena Quintanilla as the “Mexican Madonna” in 1997, his comment not only highlighted the notoriety she had gained outside the confines of mainstream pop music, but also alluded to the influence her career would eventually have on a generation of Latino superstars. From Jennifer Lopez to Shakira, the professional trajectories of their musical careers owe a debt of gratitude to Selena’s legacy. And fifteen years after Selena’s untimely death, she still reigns supreme as the “Queen of Tejano Music.”
On March 9, 2010, EMI released La Leyenda, a commemorative box set of Selena’s work, in collaboration with the Quintanilla family. Spanning four CDs, La Leyenda gathers 82 tracks and groups them by musical style and language. As part of the promotional campaign for EMI’s special release, Selena’s sister, Suzette Quintanilla, squeezed some time out of her busy schedule to settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on Selena’s attachment to white roses, behind-the-scenes schooling, and alternative recording of “Where Did the Feeling Go?”
March 31, 1995, is a day that will live forever in the hearts and minds of music lovers around the world. I can’t believe it’s been fifteen years, and I still remember the emotional response that surrounded Selena’s death. I know that La Leyenda is a joint project between Capitol EMI and Q-Productions, but would you mind telling me how this project came about?
This project came about last year, around August or so. EMI came to us, and Greta Nodar, she’s in charge of special packaging and promotions, wanted to do something special to mark—not the fifteen years of Selena passing—but more so, something to celebrate her life and her legacy. Fifteen years later, she’s very much alive in everybody’s heart, in their memories. And she’s still being played on the radio. And she’s very much still a very important role model – fifteen years later. And so, with that being said, we thought that EMI had a great idea.
As you were preparing this box set, what elements received special consideration?
Well, EMI asked: “What do you think should be included in this box set – something different to make it stand out?” And of course, the one most important thing that Selena loved the most, other than doing music, was her fans. And so we asked her fans, on Selena’s MySpace, to send in any type of message about Selena, or to her; and we included all that we could in the box set. And so, that’s what happened. I think the thirty-page booklet is the best thing about the whole box set. I’ve read every message that’s in there. And the underlying focus of pretty much every message is the fact that they looked up to my sister. They still love her very much. And in small and big ways, she inspired them in some way, throughout their life. On top of all that, the box set contains four discs, and EMI categorized the music in a really cool way. Disc 1 is all pop; Disc 2 is all Tejano and ranchera; Disc 3 is, of course, all the English music; and then Disc 4 is the live stuff. I don’t believe EMI has ever released anything like that – especially for Selena. It’s so different from a lot of the other greatest hits packages that you see. And there’s this really beautiful charm included, too, with her name in black and gold, which is really cool.
I have to agree with you! I really like the way her music was categorized and spread across the four-disc set. Since Selena has such a diverse audience of listeners, who come from both Spanish and English language backgrounds, what challenges did you face in making the track listing for the single and double disc editions?
Well, I should be honest with you. I wasn’t involved in making the track listings. EMI created those. But they sent the final versions over here and my father looked at it, along with our recording engineer. I believe they kind of kept it the way EMI wanted it, with a couple of changes here and there. The four-disc box set isn’t something cheap, you know? When I first found out what the retail price was, I kind of was like: “What?” [laughing] You know, I was like, “Are you serious? That’s a little bit overpriced. Don’t you think?” [laughing continues] But then I went and did my own research. I went to Best Buy and I went to Target and I went online to Amazon and whatnot, and I saw that was the standard rate. So I think the good thing about the double-disc and the single-disc, and one of the things that EMI did that was really cool, is that the final product, La Leyenda, caters to different types of buyers. With three different outlets, the single disc, double-disc and box set, you can still participate in this celebration, even if you can’t afford the most expensive format. That was really important to us. So I think it was great that EMI thought about everybody, especially those who may not be able to afford the most expensive package.
As I was looking at the artwork for La Leyenda, two things came across my mind. First, how did you go about determining the title?
Since this package was ultimately a celebration of Selena’s life, EMI came up with the name La Leyenda. Whenever we had a conversation with people in charge of the box set’s production, one thing that kept on coming up was the fact that she’s very much alive, in our hearts and in her music. And here we are, fifteen years later. And that is what you call a legacy, a legend. Selena has become a legend and so many people talk about her. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Pretty much everybody knows who Selena is. And so the title was very appropriate – “La Leyenda,” which is Spanish for “the legend.”
My second thought revolves around the significance of the white rose? How did the rose become attached to her name? Even her mausoleum in Corpus Christi, Texas, is called Mirador de la Flor.
You know, we all favor certain flowers. My mom’s is a daisy. And our family knew that Selena loved white roses. When she passed away, my brother told her fans to bring white roses. And when everyone came to say their goodbyes to her, there was a sea of thousands and thousands of white roses. So that just became like a symbol that’s associated with Selena – the white rose. And it is something that we felt was symbolic to Selena, so it kind of became symbolic to her name and all that Selena signifies. Since then, anything that you would see with Selena’s picture is generally depicted with white roses.
Earlier, you mentioned that the part of the box that you liked the most was the booklet with the fans’ commentary. Is there a particular comment that you thought was really insightful or very rewarding?
Honestly, that’s a hard question. I have the box set right here in front of me, and I’m looking at the different comments. Let me read this one to you. It says: “Thank you, Selena, for inspiring me to achieve all my goals and for the impact you have made in my life. Thank you, Selena, for the time spent sharing your talent with all of us. Thank you, Selena, for making others embrace being a Mexican-American. Thank you, Selena, for being a singer, an artist, an actress, a philanthropist, a role model and most importantly, a person.”
Wow! I know you must be proud of the impact your sister had on the world. I never had the chance to see her perform, but I have seen several of her live performances on television and through YouTube, of course! [laughing] When you look at her career, what current artist do you think do you think has taken elements of her career and incorporated them into their own?
Well, there is one artist in mind, but you would have to ask her directly. But Beyoncé—and I’ve seen her in a couple of concerts—she has a certain magic; what the record labels call “the whole package.” When I look at Beyoncé, she reminds me a lot of my sister, in the sense that she’s a different animal when she’s on stage. She becomes a different persona, but it also comes very naturally. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Beyoncé a couple of times. And Beyoncé is an amazing artist and she’s a great businesswoman. Like my sister, she is into fashion and started her own fashion line. She works with her family. Her father manages her. So there are a lot of similarities between the two.
Oh, wow! I didn’t really realize it until you started speaking on it. There are quite a few similarities.
Yeah. And you know, when you see Beyoncé—like when you see Selena perform, she just captivates you. She just tends to draw you into whatever song she’s singing. And for me, as a musician, when I look at Beyoncé, I feel that connection. Whatever she’s doing, whether it’s a soul song or that she’s telling a guy off, I feel like she’s in the moment. Not a lot of people have that gift. Selena had it, and I see it in Beyoncé.
One of my favorite Selena tracks is her cover of “Where Did the Feeling Go?,” which was featured in the 1997 biopic. Since the song was unreleased for some time, I’m sure there is an interesting back-story.
Oh, yes. Do you want to hear a story about that, Clayton?
Okay. Selena wasn’t married at the time, and neither was I. And we went to L.A. and we were there for like a week or two. And Selena studied with Seth Riggs, who is a vocal coach, a very well-known vocal coach in L.A. He did Michael—I mean, we walked in and we were freaking out because he had worked with Michael Jackson. I mean, here we were—two Mexicans from Texas in Los Angeles! [laughing] Selena recorded the song, but the record label didn’t like the way that her breathing was coming out, you know what I mean? They had an issue with her delivery. Selena is a natural artist and a natural singer. She’s never been coached. So they wanted her to get a vocal coach and teach her how to breathe a little be. So, she did vocal coaching for like a week – maybe a week-and-a-half. And then she re-recorded that song. And guess what happened? They didn’t like it. They felt that it wasn’t natural and that it didn’t come out natural! [laughing] But it sounded amazing! [laughing continues] You could tell the difference between the two, especially the way she delivered it. Even though they taught her how to breathe and all that, they ended up keeping it the way that you hear it.
Yes! [laughing] Interesting, right? [laughing continues] And Selena goes, “I felt better singing it the way that I felt it.” Instead of trying to force it—you know?
Yes, indeed! Are there any elements of Selena’s career that you hope people never forget? Or are there facets of her life that tend to be overshadowed?
Well, a lot of people don’t know that she was attending a college via mail. Took correspondence out in L.A. that is catered to businesspeople who don’t have the capability of going to school full-time because they are businesspeople, but they want to further their career. I have a tape of her where she’s talking about her thesis. And she was trying to get her degree in business so she could be a better businessperson.
Selena had such tremendous drive! Generally, people go to school to become what they want to become, right? And here she is, a successful businesswoman, who wanted to go to school and become better! What do you think was her driving force?
Early on, and I think everybody knows, music was something that just kind of came natural to her and to us. And because of the situation that we were in when we were growing up—I’m sure you’ve seen the movie, Clayton—life presented itself. It was something that we did as a family. And it was just a pastime for little get-togethers and stuff like that at the house. And then it ended up becoming something that we started making a living off of because my father didn’t have a job, you know? And so, then, everything kind of happened backwards, and we just kind of took off from there. Since she started early, Selena was only able to do her—of course, she graduated and everything, via correspondence, regular school—but never really had the time to go to school-school. And then that’s when she opened up—she was trying to get her fashion business up and going. And then she opened up her stores. And she just felt that, to be able to give 100 percent into her stores, she needed to become a better businessperson for her stores. So, that’s why she decided to try the schooling, via correspondence, because materialistically, she had everything. Materialistically, she had money. She had cars. She was building a house. She was married. There was really, really no need, other than the fact that she just wanted to straight up learn. And she was pushing herself, which was something that she always did. She never settled. My parents always told us: “If you want, you’ve got to go get.” And Selena really wanted it. That was just her. Selena wanted to better herself and better her business.
When you look towards the future, as a member of the Quintanilla family, what plans do you have for Q-Productions?
Well, we’re a production company. So we’re a small business in the music business. I can tell you that we have felt the impact of the recession, just like everybody else. And, of course, one thing that people tend to stop doing is buy music. So we’ve felt the little crunch that’s going on right now, definitely. But as far as that, it’s not stopping us. We’re always looking for new talent. We also do music videos, layouts, artwork and production. Right now we have a line of DVDs that’s catered more to Tejano music, and Tejano music artists, that are being released all over the state of Texas; in pretty much all the H-E-Bs and BestBuys – and I believe Walmart is even carrying some of the stuff. So we have our hands in different things. And of course, my brother has his own group: A. B. Quintanilla y los Kumbia All Starz.
The Quintanilla legacy continues to shine bright! [laughing]
Yes. But Clayton, I just want to say thank you for doing this interview with me. I truly believe that we all, working together, really helps continue Selena’s legacy. It’s such a beautiful thing. And I don’t think it’s going to be disappearing anytime soon. Thanks to Selena’s fans, who continue talking about her and asking for her on the radio, she still lives.
For more information on Selena, visit the Quintanilla family website, Q-Productions: http://www.q-productions.com/