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Laura Canales 1954-2005

Laura Canales, the 'grande dame of Tejano,' has died.

Additional material from staff writer Joe Gross and The Associated Press


Monday, April 18, 2005

Just 16 days after fans commemorated the 10th anniversary of Tejano superstar Selena's death with concerts and memorials, Laura Canales, the first female Tejano star, died in Corpus Christi.

Distraught admirers flooded the offices of Austin's Tejano Artist Music Museum with more than 2,000 e-mails about Canales on Monday.

"I've been responding to these e-mails since nine this morning," museum founder Marcelo Tafoya said Monday afternoon. "Everyone on my mailing list is sending their regrets, some from as far away as Detroit and Milwaukee."

"There's a lot of love for Laura," said family spokesman Javier "J.V." Villanueva.

Canales, 50, a Kingsville native, had been hospitalized in Corpus Christi since March 28 for a gall bladder operation. Complications including pneumonia arose after the surgery, and she died Saturday, said Villanueva, chief executive of the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame in Alice.

"We call her the grande dame of Tejano music. . . . the early Selena," said Wanda Reyes, spokeswoman for the Tejano Music Awards.

"Laura Canales was like a younger sister to me," Austin singer Ruben Ramos said. "She was a great singer and deserved the title of 'La Reina de la Onda Tejana' ('Queen of the Tejano Wave')."

Ramos says he last saw Canales at a San Antonio photo session last month. "I gave her a big hug and she looked fine," he said. "She mentioned something about a checkup, but she looked good. It was very surprising to hear she had slipped into a coma from something that seemed so routine."

At the La Tejanita record store on East Seventh Street, customers expressed curiosity about Canales' death. Canales' albums were selling a bit more heavily, according to owner Jesse Lona.

"It's not like Selena," Lona said, "but people have asked some questions and talked about it a bit."

Canales was born to a middle-class family in Kingsville, a town known for its cattle ranching about 40 miles southwest of Corpus Christi. She came of age just as local dance bands were mixing keyboards into the Mexican-style polka known as conjunto — creating the Tejano sound now common at parties and festivals throughout Texas.

Before Canales, women were rare on the Tejano stage.

"We put femininity in a male-dominated genre," Canales told The Monitor in McAllen in 1997.

"She really was the first wo- man on the bandstand," Tafoya said.

The young Canales' voice "knocked me off my feet," Villanueva said. "Every time there was a dance going on, Laura was known for just walking up to the stage and asking if she could sing a song. She just always had the love for it."

After graduating from high school in 1973, Canales became a guest singer for Los Unicos y El Conjunto Bernal. When the group disbanded, Canales and three former band members formed Snowball & Company, which in 1977 released an album that ranked 10th on Billboard's "Hot Latin" chart. Snowball changed its name to Felicidad in 1978. Her 1990 album "No Regrets" stayed on the charts for 13 weeks.

Canales took home a dozen music awards during her career, including Female Entertainer of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards.

While many female Tejano artists have aspirations of crossing over to English-language pop, Canales remained loyal to the Texas sound.

"She's one of the few artists that have stuck to her roots," Villanueva said.

In 2000, she was part of the first class of inductees into the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame.

A funeral was scheduled for Thursday at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Kingsville.

Selected Laura Canales discography:

'Eternamente' with Felicidad (1978)

'Hermoso Carino' with Felicidad (1979)

'Despacito' with Encanto (1983)

'No Regrets' (1990)

'La Reina' (1995)

'30 Exitos Insuperables' (2004)
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Apr. 18, 2005
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