August 23, 1962, – May 16, 2016
According to news reports, a massive heart attack – an autopsy was ordered – ended the live of Tejano singer Emilio Navaira. The 2003 Grammy winner for “Acuerdate” as “Tejano Album of the Year” was 53 years old and lived in New Braunfels, Texas. If murdered Selena was the Queen, Emilio was the undisputed king of Tejano, an amalgam of Texas and Hispanic music. His popularity was so huge, that he often got nicknamed the “Garth Brooks” of Tejano.
Born and raised in Southern San Antonio, he not only grew up with the typical Mexican-American background listening to Little Joe & La Familia or Mexican crooner Ramon Ayala, he also listened to Texas country music greats: Bob Wills, Willie Nelson and George Strait. After high school in San Antonio, he got a musical degree at Southwest Texas University in San Marcos (now Texas State) and in 1983 he joined “Los Musicales” and started singing with David Lee Garza.
By the end of the 80s, Navaira formed his own band Rio, got a major record deal, where he recorded more than a dozen albums under his full name and then from the mid-90’s simply by his first name Emilio. One of his songs “Como Le Hare” (How Will I Do It) became so popular, even though it never charted as a single, that the title is now used as a catch phrase in Texas. His albums regularly started to show up in the US Latin (album) and his singles in the US Hot Latin (singles) charts.
His popularity was so big, that he started to get sponsored by Wrangler Jeans, Coca Cola & Miller Beer and was signed to Capitol Nashville, adroitly naming his first album “Life Is Good” after the beer slogan. A Larry Boone/Paul Nelson/Earl Clark penned ballad, “It’s Not The End Of The World” got recorded in English and Spanish and charted in the top twenty of both the US Country and Hot Latin charts respectively.
His voice and distinctive style also convinced the prestigious “Country Night Gstaad” festival in Switzerland to have him perform there among other headliners, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kathy Mattea and Paul Brand, in 1997. So before his trip to Switzerland I had a chance to interview him at Austin’s (now long gone Aqua Fest). The energy coming from that stage put the largely Tejano audience on fire, this was their king and he was celebrated that night with people hanging on Emilio’s lips and singing with him during the whole set.
After two country inspired albums for Capitol and changing times in Nashville, Emilio went back to the Tejano market, but still including Spanish tracks, that could have been sung by country great George Strait. His mixture from love ballads to modern Tejano, from traditional Rancheras (story songs) to dance-able Cumbias, established him as one of the most diverse artists in the Texas music scene.
In March of 2008 Emilio almost lost his life, after having a tour bus accident in Bellaire outside of Houston. He was ejected through the windshield of the bus after he collided with traffic barrels. He was later being charged with “intoxication” and not having a license to drive the bus. Miraculously he had an impressive recovery after severe cranial damage and brain injuries and was able to come back onto the stage two years later.
With “El Regreso del Rey” (Return of the King) he released a fulminante Live-Album as a comeback. Even though not on major labels anymore, Emilio continued to release albums. Last year’s “Juntos” and a biggest hit album “Siempre Grande” this year were released by Mexican imprint Apodaca. He also continued to tour in South Texas and Mexico, now with his own kids in his band Rio, his brother Raulito formed his own band “Remdio” with his kids, Destiny and Rigo.