LAURA CANALES: first massively popular female singer in the modern Tejano age; dead at 50, on Selena's birthday
By RAMIRO BURR, Special to La Prensa
SAN ANTONIO TX: Although she was predated by pioneers Chelo Silva and Lydia Mendoza, Laura Canales was the first massively popular female singer in the macho world of Tejano music.
Before Selena, Canales was recognized as the "Reina de la Onda Tejana ("Queen of Tejano music"). She was inducted into several halls of fame, including the Alice-based Tejano ROOTS organization (in 2000).
Canales died Saturday night (April 16) from complications, including pneumonia, after gall bladder surgery in a Corpus Christi hospital. She was 50.
Songwriter Luis Silva said fans today don't realize how big Canales was in her day.
"Laura was as big as anyone could possibly be in the Tejano market of the '80s. She was it. And no matter how big she was, I remember she was always kind to everyone"
Born Aug. 19, 1954, in Kingsville, TX, Canales was inspired to get into music by her high school choral director Millicent Wiley. She made her recording debut in 1973 with Los Unicos, and then joined the seminal group El Conjunto Bernal for a short stint. Her first regional hit came with a cover of "Midnight Blue," which she performed with Snowball & Co. That debut album, released in 1977, landed in the Top 10 of Billboard's Latin album charts.
In 1981, she married drummer Balde Muñoz and formed Laura Canales and Encanto. Their debut CD, "Si Vivi Contigo" produced her first major hit, the title track. Written by veteran San Antonio songwriter and producer Luis Silva, it vaulted Canales to the upper echelon of the Tejano market.
"Laura will best be known for delivering a balanced, yet soul punch to her polkas, rancheras, and ballads," said graphic designer/former Latin Breed singer Ruben Cubillos, who worked with Canales. "In many ways she was like one of the boys-colorful, outspoken, and daring. Her distinctive vocal style-full and smooth-flavored every rhythm with drama, silk, and venom, whatever the songs called for," remembered Silva.
Part of Canales' immense popularity derived from her distinctive voice-rich, supple, and emotive. She had a little girl quality that fused innocence with exuberance and she could easily and convincingly convey the anger of betrayal or the fear of loneliness in her songs.
From 1983 to 1987, Canales won both the female entertainer and female vocalist honors at the Tejano Music Awards, a record that stood until Selena eclipsed it in the mid-'90s.
"We're all very saddened by the loss of Laura Canales. It is a very unusual situation with the recent anniversary of the passing of Selena, and now we lose the great pioneer Laura Canales," said Robert Arellano, president of the Tejano Music Awards.
"Laura was very instrumental during Tejano's rise in the late '80s. She was the leading female and she held her own among the male artists. We'll always remember her as a great singer and a great personality," said Arellano.
The images of Canales from her '80s heyday always showed her impeccably dressed, her hair perfectly coifed and flashing a thousand-watt smile.
In 1989, Canales quit Encanto over management differences and went into semi-retirement before signing with the upstart label EMI Latin and later Fonovisa. In1990, her CD "No Regret" remained on the Billboard regional Mexican charts for 13 weeks. Her subsequent Tejano hits included "Cuatro Caminos," "Dame La Mano" and "Dile a Tu Esposa."
Noted producer Gilbert Velásquez, who worked with Canales on more than a dozen albums at Amen Studios and also at Velásquez Music studios, said that "despite her years of experience, Canales still got nervous during the recording sessions."
"She always had a little chihuahua named Chi Chi Bell, that she always had with her that helped her calm down," Velásquez said. "What we remember most was that she was always giggly, always bubbly. She was a friend to everybody who came into the studio, despite the celebrity status she had."
Publicist Ramón Hernández said Canales was able to succeed in the male-dominated Tejano world because "of her persistence and tenacity coupled with a 'can-do' attitude.
"She never let anyone or anything get to her, and if she saw you looking depressed, she would say, 'Build a bridge and get over it.' And that is exactly what she did."
Rosary services are during this week with funeral services scheduled 10:00 a.m. Thursday in Kingsville at the Kingsville's Memorial Funeral Home.
For more information on Canales go to: www.tejanorootshalloffame.org. or [email protected].