Tejano music legend Emilio Navaira, who rose to stardom in the 1980s and 1990s, died Monday in New Braunfels. He was 53.
The San Antonio native helped boost Tejano music’s popularity during the genre’s peak along with artists such as Selena. Later Navaira successfully crossed over to perform country music as well. Last fall, he headlined Austin’s Día de Los Muertos Festival.
“The Tejano industry has lost a major force,” said Baldomero Cuellar, founder and co-host of Rancho Alegre Radio on KOOP 91.7 FM. “Emilio was a major part of the 90s Tejano explosion, and he will be deeply missed.”
New Braunfels police and fire crews were sent to Navaira’s home at about 8:20 p.m. Monday after family members found Navaira unconscious and not breathing, according to a police report. First responders began life-saving measures before transporting Navaira to Resolute Health Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Although an autopsy is pending, the singer is believed to have died of natural causes, according to the report.
“There’s no replacing a legend,” said Ross Gomez, vice president of the Austin Tejano Music Coalition. Gomez remembers Navaira’s enthusiasm and support for the organization when Gomez had to the opportunity to briefly meet and tell him about the coalition’s work. Gomez says there are few artists who can go by just a first name, “but when someone (in the Tejano world) said ‘Emilio’ you knew exactly who that was.”
The Grammy award winner was the lead singer for David Lee Garza y los Musicales before forming his own band. In 2008, the singer almost died after a tour bus accident in Houston. Navaira suffered serious head injuries after being thrown through the windshield of the bus and pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge. Navaira managed to recover and made a career comeback.
“A sudden loss like this is especially tough for Tejano because this genre is like a small town,” said Piper LeMoine, Rancho Alegre Radio co-host. “The fans often get to know the musicians, even the superstars like Emilio, personally. We hire them to celebrate life events like weddings and quinceañeras. They’re at community events and church jamaicas…”
Gomez said you could always count on Navaira to give a great performance and was friendly to his fans while exuding a natural pizazz. “His music will live on forever because legends never die,” he said.
Funeral arrangements are pending.