Few Tejano recording artists in history have had the lasting cultural impact of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. The young woman from Corpus Christi took the genre, and later the music industry, by storm on her way from local celebrity to multi-national stardom.
This week would have been Selena’s 50th birthday, and it’s hard not to imagine where her charisma, infectious smile, and singular voice would have taken her had she lived a full life.We’d likely be discussing her career alongside pop culture’s most dominant icons.
Sadly, that’s all we can do—imagine.
Selena’s legacy is largely one of unfulfilled potential. Taken from the world at only 23, her rise to fame was a flash in the pan, a brief moment of hope and representation for her Mexican American fans that was sadly never followed by another comparable artist.
Within those brief years, one moment stands above the rest, defining that lost potential better than any other: Selena’s record-breaking performance at the 1995 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was, tragically, her final televised show. Performed a month before her murder, the sold-out Astrodome concert gave us some of the most iconic and lasting images of the bilingual Tejano star onstage.
Aired live on Univision, the show outsold fellow 1995 performers Vince Gill, Reba McIntire, and George Straight on the way to nearly 67,000 tickets, beating the previous year’s attendance record, one also held by Selena from her second Houston-rodeo appearance.
The concert also stands as one of the most significant pieces of Houston cultural history, on par with John F. Kennedy’s Moon Speech in Rice Stadium and the Rockets’ back-to-back Clutch City championships in ’94 and ’95. The live album of the event, Selena Live! The Last Concert, peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Latin Pop Album charts following its release in 2001, received a nod at the Latin Music Awards, and has since been certified triple platinum.
Selena’s performance that year, in her iconic purple jumpsuit, helped make RodeoHouston the primetime music event it is today. Recent performances like Cardi B‘s record-breaking concert and Kacey Musgraves‘ Twitter-trending show in 2019, as well as Becky G’s 2020 set—which all paid tribute to Selena in their own ways—owe their platform to the crossover star power of Selena’s final show.
In a way, it’s fitting that the rodeo was cancelled this year. A year that would have been the Queen of Tejano’s 50th now serves as another tragic milestone, another what-if moment in a world without her. The absence of a rodeo feels like a month-long moment of silence.
No recording artist has represented the dual identity of the U.S.’s Chicano community as graciously and charmingly as Selena. In fact, in the years since her death, Mexican Americans have remained largely invisible in American pop culture.
While it’s long past time for that to change, it’s likely no artist will ever fill the heels Selena left behind. Perhaps that’s for the best.