Old cable access videos captured the girl who became a superstar
The first time Gilbert and Rosemary Cortez met Selena, she was in her tour bus parked outside of a club where Selena y los Dinos were to play that night in Grand Prairie.
Gilbert approached the Tejano star’s dad, Abraham Quintanilla, and asked whether his daughter would appear on his cable access show, “Tiempo Live.”
Quintanilla agreed and later that day, Selena, her mom Marcella, and sister Suzette, met the Cortezes at the Cube Cable studio in the Wynnewood Shopping Center.
The Cortezes became fans of Tejano, a Texas-born genre of Mexican music, in the ’70s. They began hosting their own Tejano music show on cable access in the early ’80s, and they ran a magazine, Tejano Connection, until the late ’90s. For years, their mini media empire was the best source and sometimes the only source, for news on the Tejano music scene in Dallas.
They’d heard Selena sing in San Antonio, the heart of Tejano music.
“The first time I heard her sing, I knew she would be big,” Gilbert says.
On the VHS recording of Selena’s “Tiempo Live” performance from 1985, she has short curly hair and chubby cheeks. She’s wearing an oversized mustard-yellow sweatshirt and tight acid-washed jeans.
Because her band was back at the club doing sound check, she lip-synced a song, “Oh Mama.”
When Selena returned to Dallas for a performance in July 1987, Abraham Quintanilla allowed Gilbert to film a video for her song “Tu No Sabes.”
They shot it in a familiar Oak Cliff park.
“There used to be a sign that said ‘Martin Weiss Park,’ and I made sure we had a shot of her walking past that sign because I wanted everyone to know she was in Oak Cliff,” Gilbert says.
In the video, teenage Selena walks around the park looking heart broken, and she lip-syncs to the song, which Gilbert was playing on a boom box while filming on a camcorder. All things considered, it’s not bad.
Selena’s father/manager allowed it because the “Tejano Live” TV show was a way to reach a wide audience before these days of YouTube.
“Hey, it was like we were the Mexican MTV, right?” Gilbert says to Rosemary.
Gilbert and Rosemary brought Selena to the State Fair of Texas that year, her first time performing there, as part of the Texas Sesquicentennial. The festival had 12 bands the first year and the Fair gave them a small budget. Most of it went to the Quintanillas, who were paid $1,500 for the performance.
Selena and the band performed their set at the Fair Park amphitheater, wearing matching gold-lamé jumpsuits. They performed their own Tejano songs along with Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” and Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately.” Even over a 30-year-old analog tape, her voice is a knockout punch.
Selena returned to the Fair every year until 1994.
“She was always very sweet,” Rosemary says.
The Cortezes’ son Steven, who was about 10 years younger than Selena, had a huge crush on the singer. On a Polaroid snapshot of herself with Steven and his brother Aaron, Selena wrote, “Stay cuddly!”
Gilbert, who is a conga player, stuck with the TV show and magazine because he was passionate about the music.
It wasn’t easy. He and Rosemary sold ads, took pictures, wrote stories, laid out pages and delivered the free magazines to clubs and restaurants throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area. At one time, they even bought their own printing press and published out of their garage.
They produced an awards show, the Tejano Connection Music Awards, at the Bronco Bowl for several years. Selena attended at least once, alongside other Tejano music stars like Shelly Lares, Jay Perez and Ramón Ayala.
Now the Cortezes live in a neat little house in Grand Prairie. Rosemary is an accountant and Gilbert still plays the conga. Tejano music reached its peak in the late ’90s, they say, but it’s still around today.
For many years, Rosemary collected magazines and other Selena memorabilia and she keeps it all back in a closet somewhere. Memories of a sweet girl, a superstar she once knew.