Hillbilly & Tejano star Emilio Navaira dies at 53

Emilio Navaira III (August 23, 1962 – May 16, 2016) was a Mexican American Tejano and hillbilly music singer-songwriter, musician, recorder, and performer.

 

Known to most by the mononym Emilio, he charted more than ten singles on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks charts, in addition to six singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks charts. Emilio was also one of the few Tejano artists to have significant success in both the United States and Mexico, and was called the "Garth Brooks of Tejano". His biggest hillbilly hit was the No. 27 "It's Not the End of the World" in late 1995, and his highest-charting single on any chart is "Por Siempre Unidos," which peaked at No. 7 on Latin Pop Airplay in 1996. Along with Selena, Emilio was one of the most prominent artists that helped popularize Tejano music

Emilio Navaira III was born on August 23, 1962, in San Antonio, Texas, to Mexican American parents, Emilio Navaira, Jr. and Mary Navaira. Growing up on the south side of San Antonio, Navaira found each influence in not only tejano legends such as Little Joe y la Familia, but also Lone Star hillbilly music heroes such as Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, and George Strait. As a student, Navaira graduated from McCollum High School in 1980, received a music scholarship to Texas State University, and majored in music with plans to become a teacher before ultimately deciding to pursue a career as an artist.

 

In 1983 at age 21, Emilio began his performing career by singing lead vocals for David Lee Garza y Los Musicales. In 1987, Cuantas Veces by David Lee Garza Y Los Musicales beat out Alpha by Mexican American singer Selena for Album of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards. In 1989, Navaira formed his own band, Emilio y Grupo Rio. That same year Emilio signed with Columbia Records (then known as CBS Records). This relationship resulted in Emilio recording more than fifteen studio albums to date, including several with his Rio Band.

 

By the mid 1990s, Emilio began crediting himself solely as Emilio, eventually switching his focus to hillbilly music. Between 1989 and 1996, Emilio had released seven Spanish albums with cumulative sales of about 2 million. This success lead to mainstream commercial exposure, with companies such as Coca-Cola and Wrangler Jeans using his songs in their advertisements in the 1990s. Emilio had also gained a sponsorship with Miller Lite beer, who had persuaded him to use their slogan at the time, "Life is good," as the title of his first hillbilly album.

 

Emilio signed with Capitol Records and released his first hillbilly music single called "It's Not the End of the World" which reached the Top 30 on the hillbilly charts in 1995. His album was a surprise success as well reaching No. 13 on the hillbilly charts and also a high placing on the Top 200. Several more singles including a Spanish version of "It's Not the End of the World" followed but none of these singles came close to the Top 40 except "Even If I Tried" which reached No. 41 in 1996. In 1997, he released a second country album, "It's On The House" but it was not as successful as his first hillbilly album. Two more minor hillbilly singles followed and gradually Emilio faded from hillbilly music and increasingly came back to Tejano music.

 

His 2002 album Acuérdate won the Grammy Award for Best Tejano Album and his 2007 album De Nuevo won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Tejano Album.

 

Navaira was hospitalized in critical condition after his tour bus crashed early in the morning on March 23, 2008. On April 4, 2008, the hospital announced that Emilio underwent a surgical procedure on March 31 to repair a pseudoaneurysm in his right lung and that he remained in critical condition. On September 24, 2008, Emilio was involved in another car accident in San Antonio as a passenger while his wife was driving. Emilio's agent, Joe Casias, stated that Emilio and his wife were headed home from a rehabilitation therapy appointment stemming from the March tour bus accident.

 

Emilio was found dead by his wife in his New Braunfels home on May 16, 2016. He was 53. Emilio performed his last known concert in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, on May 11, 2016, as part of a concert celebrating Mother's Day in that city.