Emilio Navaira, one of the most celebrated Tejano musicians in the industry, died on Monday night in New Braunfels, according to a police report.

Navaira was found unconscious by family members around 8:20 p.m. Some have speculated that he died after a heart attack, but officials have not yet released a cause of death.

The 53-year-old musician, a San Antonio native, was well known across the U.S. and Mexico. He performed solo and with his band Emilio Navaira y Grupo Rio, receiving numerous awards for his music including a Grammy Award for Best Tejano Album (Acuerdate) and a Latin Grammy Award for Best Tejano Album (De Nuevo). He is credited by many for bringing Tejano music to more mainstream audiences.

Juan Tejeda, longtime Southside resident and local conjunto icon, watched Navaira’s “rise from the Southside and McCollum High School as a vocalist to making it in the industry with the best bands in the Tejano industry.

“He was, I think, one of the great vocalists, one of the great voices … in the history of Tejano music,” said Tejeda, whose cousin Cynthia Navaira was previously married to Navaira and is the mother of three of his five children. “We’re like family out here on the Southside, so it’s a big loss.”

Navaira recorded a song, Tú Robaste Mi Corazón, with the late Selena Quintanilla, and many in the Tejano music scene regarded the duo as leaders of the genre. He also had a few crossover country hits including It’s Not the End of the World which was in the Top 30 on the country charts in 1995.

In 2008, Navaira pleaded guilty to drunk driving after his tour bus crashed into a set of traffic barrels along Loop 610, leaving him severely injured with massive brain injuries and in need of several operations. He spent time on house-arrest, probation and paid a fine. He eventually recovered, allowing him to return to his music career.

The news of Navaira’s death has led to an outpouring of support and emotion on social media.

“Adiós a un pilar de la música Tejana Emilio Navaira siempre te tendremos en nuestros pensamientos, a su familia nuestro más sincero pésame. Gracias por tanta música,” wrote Intocable, a Tejano/Norteño band from Zapata, Texas, on their Facebook page, which translates to “Goodbye to a pillar of Tejano music. Emilio Navaira, we will always have you in our thoughts, and to your family we send our deepest condolences. Thank you for so much music.”

Grammy Award-winning Little Joe y la Familia, a fellow industry leader, also sent condolences to the Navaira family via Facebook:

“… We’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage together over the years with memorable performances. Rest in peace Emilio, your music will live on forever. God bless you and all of your family.”

Navaira appeared several times in the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center‘s Tejano Conjunto Festival, which Tejeda co-founded and curates. But aside from leaving a mark on the local music scene, Tejeda said Navaira was “always doing (charity) benefits.” He founded Emilio Navaira’s Tejanos for Children Foundation which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network.

“He was always involved in the community and was well loved by all the people of San Antonio,” Tejeda said.


Top image: The late Emilio Navaira and his brother Raul “Raulito” Navaira performing at the Tejano Conjunto Festival in 1992. Photo © Al Rendon.

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Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com