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Tejano singer and TV host Johnny Canales dies at 77

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A driving force in popularizing Tejano music died last week. Mexican American TV host Johnny Canales was well known throughout South Texas and eventually worldwide.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNNY CANALES: Oh, you got it. Take it away. Eso. Vamonos.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

He'd break out a catchphrase like that before introducing viewers to a new artist, like a performer he discovered when she was just 13 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SELENA QUINTANILLA: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: The singer, with a little-known band then known as Selena and Los Dinos, eventually became the queen of Tejano music, Selena Quintanilla.

FADEL: The Johnny Canales Show also helped introduce Spanglish - or the combination of spoken Spanish and English - to a wider audience. Here's Selena, who wasn't fluent in Spanish at the time, explaining how they painted their own outfits.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE JOHNNY CANALES SHOW")

QUINTANILLA: With fluorescent paint and permanent paint.

CANALES: OK. (Speaking Spanish).

QUINTANILLA: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

MARTÍNEZ: Felix Contreras cohosts NPR's podcast, Alt.Latino.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: He embodied the music and who it was speaking to.

MARTÍNEZ: He says Canales helped elevate the Tejano music.

CONTRERAS: And that set wheels in motion that we're seeing play out today as regional Mexican artists take over the global charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELLA BAILA SOLA")

ESLABON ARMADO AND PESO PLUMA: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: That's "Ella Baila Sola," a single by Peso Pluma and Eslabon Armado. It became the first regional Mexican hit to land a top 10 spot on Billboard's main pop chart.

FADEL: Spotify says Mexican-inspired music grew 400% worldwide over the last five years on their platform. Johnny Canales helped lay the groundwork.

MARTÍNEZ: Beyond his contribution to music, our colleague Felix Contreras says Canales had charisma and authenticity.

CONTRERAS: We should strive for that kind of deep, personal connection Johnny Canales had with both the bands and his audience. He made those communities along the U.S.-Mexican border feel seen and heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: The life of Johnny Canales will be celebrated this evening at the Selena Auditorium in Corpus Christi, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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