Monday, August 13, 2012

Young Legends!

By Anant Mathur (August 13, 2012)

Sometimes in life we get a chance to experience voices which are truly very special and touch our heart instantly, today I would like to tell you about two such individuals. You may have heard of them but if you haven't you really should give them a listen. Selena and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole both had fabulous voices, unfortunately, we lost these great artists at a young age, but they'll live on forever through their wonderful music.

Selena, as she was poplarly know, was an American singer-songwriter. At the 1987 Tejano Music Awards, Selena won Best Female Vocalist. In 1988, she met Chris Pérez, who had his own band. Two years later, the Quintanilla family hired him to play in Selena's band and they quickly fell in love. On April 2, 1992, Selena and Pérez were married. In 1990 the album, Ven Conmigo was the first Tejano album recorded by a female artist to achieve gold status. Around this time, a registered nurse and fan named Yolanda Saldívar approached Selena's father with the idea of starting a fan club. Her wish was granted and she became the club's president. In 1992, Selena’s stardom got a big boost with the song, "Como La Flor" off a new album, Entre a Mi Mundo. The next album, Selena Live! won Best Mexican-American Album at the 36th Grammy Awards.

The album Amor Prohibido was released in 1994. It was nominated for a Grammy award for Mexican-American Album of the Year. Billboard's Premio Lo Nuestro awarded them six awards, including Best Latin Artist and Song of the Year for "Como La Flor". Meanwhile, her duet with the Barrio Boyzz, "Donde Quiera Que Estés", reached number one in the Billboard Latin Charts. By fall of 1994, Amor Prohibido was a commercial success in Mexico and made four number one Latin hits, replacing Gloria Estefan's Mi Tierra on the chart's number one spot. It sold over 400,000 copies by late 1994 in the U.S. and another 50,000 copies in Mexico, reaching gold status. Aside from music, she began designing and manufacturing a clothing line in 1994 and opened two boutiques called Selena Etc.

At the peak of her career, Selena visited local schools to talk to students about the importance of education. She also donated her time to civic organizations such as D.A.R.E. These demonstrations of community involvement won her loyalty from her fan base. Selena scheduled her English album for release in the summer of 1995.

On the morning of March 31, 1995, Selena was murdered at the age of 23 by Yolanda Saldívar, the president of her fan club. In early 1995, the Quintanillas discovered that Saldívar was embezzling money from the fan club, and they decided to fire her. When Selena confronted her, Saldívar drew a gun from her purse and shot her once in her right shoulder, severing an artery. Selena died in a hospital from loss of blood. Selena's murder had widespread impacts. Major networks interrupted their regular programming to break the news; Tom Brokaw referred to Selena as "The Mexican Madonna". Her funeral drew 60,000 mourners, many of whom traveled from outside the United States. People magazine published a commemorative issue in honor of Selena's memory and musical career, titled Selena 1971–1995, Her Life in Pictures.  

Selena was inducted into the "Latin Music Hall of Fame" in 1995. That summer, Selena's album Dreaming of You, a combination of Spanish-language songs and new English-language tracks, debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200, making her the first Hispanic singer to accomplish this feat. and the second highest debut after Michael Jackson's HIStory. On its release date, the album sold over 175,000 copies, a record for a female pop singer, and it sold two million copies in its first year. Songs such as "I Could Fall in Love" and "Dreaming of You" were played widely by mainstream English-language radio, with the latter reaching number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. Meanwhile, "I Could Fall in Love", while ineligible for the Hot 100 at the time, reached number 8 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and the top 10 on the Adult Contemporary Chart. "Dreaming of You" was certified 35× Platinum (Latin field) by the Recording Industry Association of America. In October 1995, a Houston jury convicted Saldívar of first degree murder and sentenced her to life in prison.

In 1997, Warner Bros. produced Selena, a film based on her life starring Jennifer Lopez. Selena's life was also the basis of the musical Selena Forever starring Veronica Vazquez as Selena. In June 2006, Selena was commemorated with a life-sized bronze statue in Corpus Christi, Texas and a Selena museum opened there. She has sold over 60 million albums worldwide.

Kamakawiwoʻole was a Hawaiian musician who died just as he was getting popular outside of Hawaii. His album Facing Future was released in 1993. His medley of "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World" was subsequently featured in several films, television programs, and television advertisement commercials (including the popular romantic comedy "50 First Dates"). Through his ukulele playing and incorporation of other genres like jazz and reggae, Kamakawiwoʻole's music remains a very strong influence in Hawaiian music.

Kamakawiwoʻole's first solo album "Ka ʻAnoʻi", released in 1990, won awards for Contemporary Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year from the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts (HARA). His second album Facing Future featured his most popular song, the medley "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World", along with "Hawaiʻi 78", "White Sandy Beach of Hawaiʻi", "Maui Hawaiian Sup'pa Man", and "Kaulana Kawaihae". Facing Future debuted at #25 on Billboard magazine's Top Pop Catalogue chart. 

On October 26, 2005, Facing Future became Hawaii's first certified platinum album, selling more than a million CDs in the United States. Facing Future was followed by 2 more albums E Ala E (1995) which featured the political title song "ʻE Ala ʻE" and "Kaleohano", and N Dis Life (1996) featured "In This Life" and "Starting All Over Again". In 1997, Kamakawiwoʻole was again honored by HARA at the Annual Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards for Male Vocalist of the Year, Favorite Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year, and Island Contemporary Album of the Year. His fifth and final album Alone in Iz World was released in 2001, 4 years after his death in 1997. The album debuted at #1 on Billboard's World Chart and charted on several other Billboard’s album charts including and #135 on Billboard's Top 200, #13 on the Top Independent Albums Chart, and #15 on the Top Internet Album Sales charts.

Throughout his life, Kamakawiwoʻole was obese and at one point weighed 757 pounds (343 kgs) standing 6-foot-2-inch (1.88 m) tall. He endured several hospitalizations because of problems caused by his obesity. Beset with respiratory and other medical problems, he died in Queen's Medical Center on June 26, 1997. The Hawaii state flag flew at half-staff on July 10, 1997, the day of Kamakawiwoʻole's funeral. Approximately ten thousand people attended the funeral.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

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