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Edward James Olmos: Remembering Selena

The actor discusses the unparalleled talent of the late Tejano singer

How Edward James Olmos Realized Selena’s Colossal Influence

Music has been an integral part of my life. My father was a dancer, he loved to dance, he loved music, and so did all of his brothers and sisters—there was 11 of them. Every time they would get together, they would dance and listen to the great bands and swing and do the jitterbug and a lot of Latin dancing. I've instilled this love of music in my children and they also listen to a lot of music.

When I was growing up in the sixties, I was a child of Pérez Prado and the mambo and the cha-cha-cha and the swing. And this was my father's music and he would play that music, and then rock ‘n’ roll and Ritchie Valens came out. Then there was Carlos Santana and his incredible usage of Latin rhythms, blues, jazz, and rock. And he swept me away. I mean that kid had a tremendous rhythm section that ended up becoming, and still is, one of the most progressive and complete rhythms sections in music to this day. Carlos is the kind of guitar player—like B.B. King and Wes Montgomery—that if you hear them hit just one note, you know who they are. When I head José Feliciano do "Light My Fire" I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. It was the most inspirational rendition of a song I had ever heard. It was beyond my wildest understanding. Where did this guy come from? And then you get great musicians like Poncho Sánchez, who is a brilliant, brilliant conguero. And, you know, you got Sheila E. and her father, just incredible musicians who give us incredible music. The list goes on and on.

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I also got to play Selena’s father in the movie. Selena kind of brought out the way that their whole family worked, and it was beautiful. Not only could Selena perform, she is one of the best singers we have. She outdid almost anybody's voice I'd ever heard. She also broke the barrier in Tejano music, which had been dominated by males. Never had there been a woman who could break through that style of music like that. She was big. She captured the hearts and souls of Tex-Mex music fans by the time she was 15 years old. And she’d been doing it since she was really young. She outdid almost anybody’s voice I’d ever heard. Her first, and only, English album was unbelievably beautiful and we used it in the movie. —As told to Katharine A. Diaz

The Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor, director, and producer fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll music as a teenager and played in several garage bands. Olmos, 72, has often combined his love of music and acting in the roles he has played. In 1981, he played El Pachuco in Zoot Suit and in 1997 he portrayed Abraham Quintanilla Jr., father of the beloved singer Selena, in her eponymous biopic.

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