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Selena's Legacy

To many Americans, Selena's career began with her death.

It is a sign of the times that the passing of a popular musician can virtually assure increased record sales and public attention. Rap artists such as Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. are slain, and their record companies find ways to capitalize on their deaths.

Unlike Shakur and B.I.G., whose music was successful outside of the rap community before they died, Selena's stardom was mostly exclusive to listeners of Tejano music. And there, she was a superstar.

While Selena's crossover success was posthumous, much of that can be attributed to the strength of her final studio album, Dreaming of You, which sold almost 3-million copies in the United States alone, and the top-selling crossover single I Could Fall in Love.

Friday, almost two years after Selena Quintanilla Perez was shot to death at 23 by the president of her fan club, her music and image will be resurrected in an autobiographical film, Selena.

The film's soundtrack was released last week by the EMI Latin label. It combines live performances recorded less than a month before Selena's death, previously unreleased tracks from when she was 18, some of her hits, and songs of tribute by other artists.

Accompanying the film and soundtrack is a massive promotional campaign that includes tie-ins with Coca-Cola and Wendy's, underscoring that Abraham Quintanilla Jr., Selena's father and manager, is promoting his daughter's career just as aggressively after her death.

However, Selena already was on the cusp of mainstream success before she was slain, said Jose Behar, President-CEO of EMI Latin and executive producer of the soundtrack. Selena's music _ not her death _ generated the surge in her mainstream popularity, and she would not have wanted her death to take that away, he said.

"She lived for her music," Behar said. "It was her message. It was what she left behind. She made a genuine musical contribution to the world."

Behar said he does not think Selena would be concerned about the marketing campaign, which includes a deal for her image being placed on personal checks. She considered her music more entertainment than art, and while she worked diligently at her craft, she never took her achievements too seriously.

Despite earning millions in 1993 and 1994, Selena and husband Chris Perez continued to lived in a small two-bedroom house next to her parents in Corpus Christi, Texas, and she frequented Wal-Mart and the Olive Garden.

If anything, Behar said, "She would be saying, "What's the fuss?' She wasn't too impressed with (fame). When she was off-stage, she wasn't that impressed with any of it. What was important for her was the music."

Behar knew Selena well. He signed the performer then named Selena y los Dinos to her first recording contract at EMI Latin in 1989, when Selena was 17 and Behar was the label's vice president.

He has seen the film, in which Selena is portrayed by Jennifer Lopez (Money Train). Her father is played Edward James Olmos (Stand and Deliver), who co-wrote the tribute song One More Time, performed by Lil' Ray, on the Selena soundtrack.

Though Lopez does not greatly resemble Selena, Behar is impressed by the performance:

"She really nails the role," he said. "She's absolutely wonderful in it, even her vocal inflections. And Eddie Olmos is awesome.

"I think it's a great movie, a fitting tribute. It's a message about hope, that anyone can make it if you persevere and go after your dreams and believe in yourself. And she's living proof of that."

Behar caught himself. "Well, living in the sense that it's there, it's very tangible. It's there in the music."

Behar was less exuberant when asked about the level of accuracy of the film, which was written and directed by Gregory Nava (Mi Familia).

"It's not a documentary," Behar said. "It's not as detailed as it could be."

When prodded, Behar conceded his specific concern:

"Well, EMI Latin played a critical role in her success," he said. "Nobody knew her when we signed her. She had recorded a couple of singles with independents, that's all. But when you see the movie... we're not in there at all."

However, Behar said, he understands the need in film to streamline history and take dramatic license:

"They film the way they do to make it entertaining," he said. "It's accurate enough that people will enjoy it."

Behar said he believes the film will prompt viewers to seek out the soundtrack, and vice versa.

The first nationwide single off it is one of two medleys of disco-era tunes Selena performed live in the Houston Astrodome. Disco Medley Part II combines a pair of Donna Summer songs, Last Dance and On the Radio, with The Hustle.

Additionally released to Spanish-language stations was Viviras Selena, (You Will Live On, Selena), a musical tribute combining the talents of Tejano and other pop artists including Latin radio stars Barrio Boyzz and Emilio Navaira.

Behar said the next single to be released nationwide will be the ballad Where Did the Feeling Go?, one of the songs recorded when Selena was 18.

This soundtrack exhausts all of Selena's remaining recordings, Behar said. With expectations of huge sales, the label shipped 1-million units on its initial release.

"This is the grand finale," Behar said. "There are new recordings in the future. But people are going to love the three beautiful songs recorded in 1990. The talent she had at 18, her ability to sing a beautiful ballad, was incredible."

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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