This Day In History: March 31

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Pop star Selena is murdered in Corpus Christi, Texas, shot dead by the president of her fan club. The tragic death prompts an immediate outpouring of grief from fans.

Selena Quintanilla Perez rose to fame as the lead singer of her family band, Selena y los Dinos. The band toured extensively, playing in dance halls, restaurants and nightclubs across the American southwest and Mexico. Their Tejano musical style blended traditional Mexican songs and Latin American dance music with pop and rock. Selena became a millionaire—and a cultural icon—by age 19, and her 1993 album, Selena Live, won a Grammy for best Mexican American album.

Although her first language was English, Selena sang in Spanish. Her music "validated the cultural duality of the majority of her fans, proving you could embrace the traditions of the land you came from while still being hip and modern," wrote Joe Nick Patoski in a Texas Monthly obit of the pop star. The "Queen of Tejano" was beloved by many in the Mexican American and broader Latino communities as a superstar who was also a good role model, talented and beautiful but also humble and hardworking.

Selena was only 23 years old when she was murdered. Before Selena's death, the Quintanilla family suspected Yolanda Saldivar—a former nurse who had become president of the Selena fan club and the manager of Selena's two clothing boutiques—of embezzling funds from their businesses. Selena arranged to meet Saldivar on March 31, 1995, at a motel in Corpus Christi, Texas, to retrieve several missing bank statements and take back control of her finances. In Room 158 of the Corpus Christi Days Inn, Saldivar shot Selena through the shoulder. Selena was able to reach the lobby and name her killer, but she was fatally wounded. Saldivar then engaged the police in a nine-hour standoff in the parking lot of the motel, ending in her arrest. Saldivar was tried and convicted of the murder of Selena, and sentenced to life in prison. 

Fans gathered to mourn Selena as soon as the news of her murder was reported. They gathered at Selena's boutiques, at the Days Inn and outside her family home to leave flowers and tributes to the singer. Some 60,000 people came to pay their respects to Selena at the Bayfront Plaza convention center in Corpus Christi, where her casket was laid out for a public memorial. The private funeral was broadcast live on TV and radio in San Antonio.

At the time of her death, Selena had been working on her first bilingual English-Spanish album. The posthumous album Dreaming of You was released in 1995, and was the first Tejano album to reach number one on the Billboard charts. Then-governor of Texas, George W. Bush, declared her birthday, April 16, as a statewide holiday. Selena endures, despite her tragic death, as an icon of Tejano music and identity.

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