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Emilio Navaira (1962 - 2016)

Getty Images / WireImage / Larry Busacca

Emilio Navaira (1962 - 2016)

Emilio Navaira, the American-born, Grammy-winning singer known as the King of Tejano Music, died Monday, May 16, of a heart attack, according to multiple news sources. He was 53.

Navaira, who was known best to fans simply as Emilio, was found unconscious at his house, according to police in New Braunfels, Texas.

Navaira charted nearly a dozen singles on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks chart over the course of his career, but he wasn’t limited to one genre. Navaira was also a favorite of country music listeners, especially during his later career. 

Navaira began performing in the early 1980s, first as lead singer for the band David Lee Garza y Los Musicales. Along with the band, he won a Tejano Music Award in 1987. He formed his own band in 1989 and began achieving success on the Latin music charts within a few years.

His crossover to fame in the country music world felt like a natural progression, as he told NPR in 1995 as he was making his first waves with that new audience. “Being a Tejano singer, I’ve always sang country — so all my audience knows already,” he said. “The audience that I have in the Latin world knows I’ve been doing this for a while.” His greatest country hit was 1995’s “It’s Not the End of the World,” which rose as high as No. 27. He had further country success the following year with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately.”

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Even as he gained a new audience in country music, Navaira remained faithful to his original fans, continuing to record Spanish language music throughout his career. In fact, his 1996 album “Life Is Good” included both an English version of the Van Morrison song and a Spanish translation titled “Hace Quanto He Dicho Que Te Amo.” That same year, his non-album single “Por Siempre Unidos” made the top 10, peaking at No. 7 on Latin Pop Airplay.

Navaira, who was born Aug. 23, 1962, in San Antonio, Texas, was a friend of the late Selena Quintanilla-Perez. The two were musical rivals, competing for the top of the Latin charts in the 1990s. But they were also partners, recording the duet, “Tu Robaste Mi Corazon.” The song was included on Quintanilla-Perez’s Grammy-winning album “Selena Live!” 

No stranger to the Grammy Awards show himself, Navaira won a 2002 Grammy for best Tejano album. He was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2013 for best Norteño album.

In a post Tuesday on Facebook, Quintanilla-Perez’s older brother, A.B. Quintanilla, offered his tributes to Navaira.

“Rest in paradise my friend Emilio Navaira,” he wrote. “I was just with him ... (Cinco) de Mayo weekend laughing about old times. My heart goes out to all his familia. Gonna miss you brother.”

Many others remembered Navaira on social media. Fellow Tejano music stars Little Joe y la Familia offered a tribute that included, “We’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage together over the years with memorable performances. Rest in peace Emilio, your music will live on forever.” The Tejano Music Awards called Navaira “a friend & family member.” Texas State Sen. Carlos Uresti tweeted, “#EmilioNavaira put Tejano music on the map & was a true Southsider! His music will live forever…”

Navaira is survived by his wife, Maria, as well as five children.

His funeral will take place Sunday, May 22, at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas, and will be open to fans.

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