Shelly Lares: Tejano country singer's musical life

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday July 18, 2023
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Tejano singer Shelly Lares
Tejano singer Shelly Lares

This year Shelly Lares was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year's Tejano Music Awards Show. At 51, she's been singing professionally 41 years, admired for her unique blend of Tejano country music, and only recently came out.

The Tejano icon got her start in 1982 at age 10 when she serendipitously planned to sing a song at her sister's wedding. At the rehearsal with the well-known band they had hired for the wedding, The Hot Tamales, jaws dropped when the little girl started singing.

As fate would have it, the Lares family hired them because they were fans of lead singer David Marez, but he had just quit the band the week before. (Shelly and he would years later collaborate on music.) When they heard her voice, The Hot Tamales asked her parents if she could please start singing with them beginning immediately, and a star was born.

That year, Shelly Lares (pronounced 'lahr-ez' as two syllables in Spanish) crossed paths with another up-and-coming icon of the genre, Selena, also age 10, who had been singing professionally since the age of six. The two became instant best friends.

Selena (left) hugs a young Shelly Lares  

Mutual fans
Shelly Lares says she and Selena were each others' biggest fans and that they were never competitive, contrary to what people might assume. Even rocker Chris Perez's ghostwriter for his book made the misstep of portraying Shelly Lares in his book as envious, against all accounts. Actually, Chris Perez was Shelly's first guitarist, and the Grammy Award-winning artist Chris Perez was later was recruited into Selena's band and married Selena.

Band members have recalled that whenever Shelly and Selena met backstage —which wasn't that often since Selena was based in Corpus Christi, not San Antonio— the two singers would laugh together non-stop, thrilled to be in each others' orbit.

But as their careers gained momentum in the 1990s, putting Tejano music on the map nationally for the first time, many people noticed that although Shelly Lares was selling records and garnering corporate sponsorships, Selena kept sweeping the awards shows along with a good deal of the media attention.

As consummate professionals and great musicians gifted with beautiful voices, they both had their fans and received tons of air play, but as it was often expressed, "Selena had 'the look,' " meaning that she was "morenita," or indigenous-looking, like many of her fans, not white-looking or on the lighter side like almost every other major star or news anchor in Spanish. For the first time in our history, having green eyes and lighter hair like Shelly Lares was no longer a plus.

One of Shelly Lares' several albums  

Awards due
In 1995, one month before Selena died, Shelly Lares finally seemed to receive her long-awaited due when her name was announced as Female Entertainer of the Year on the televised Tejano Music Awards Show. But long before it was a "thing" to flub the announcement of the most important award of the evening, the powers that be announced it had all been a careless mistake. Selena was in fact the winner.

I don't know what happened, but I know that everyone, both in the audience and backstage, felt that night and for some time to come that such a mistake never could have been made honestly. No one could ever mistake Shelly for Selena.

Selena swept up the music award in consecutive years from 1986 until 1997 (except for 1988) even after her death. Selena told Shelly she was starting to feel bad about winning every year because she knew how hard Shelly had worked on her music.

Although Shelly had been nominated every year as well, it was not until 1998 that Lares' success was finally acknowledged and she won a Tejano Music Award, at last becoming the most popular Tejano singer.

Soon after, Vince Gill's guitar playing and vocals were featured on Shelly's album "Mil Besos." She began writing music for other artists as well.

Shelly Lares, right, and her girlfriend Mia Gutierrez
Photo: Instagram  

When Selena suddenly was murdered by her fan club president, Shelly Lares was not the only artist so devastated by the news that she had to cancel all of her performances. The killer, Yolanda Saldivar, had actually approached Shelly first about starting a fan club, but was immediately turned down. Shelly and the band recognized Yolanda as the creepy stalker-like fan who was always in the front row of just about every performance. But because Selena was from out of town, the information apparently never got communicated to Selena.

Out for truth
In 2021, Shelly Lares finally came out to her fans. She had already come out to her family in 2008, but decided to simply share photos of her life on social media without using labels.

Like Selena, Shelly is also from a very conservative religious family, and her father also guided her career, so she was very nervous about coming out to them. She decided the right thing to do was to let them have their feelings and respond in their own way. But actually, it was fine.

She has her family's unconditional love and support and has stated in interviews, "It's not wrong if you have good intentions with people."

In 2022, she recorded her hit single "Breakthrough" with rapper Squishy and Eric Lee to celebrate Pride month. She also sings a soul-stirring rendition of the song "Girl Crush."

It is noteworthy that Shelly Lares, Selena and Ricky Martin, all born in 1971, command a stage presence and forge a connection with the public never before seen in Latin music. They are very different performers from every singer that came before them.

Next, although Shelly Lares recently retired from music, she plans to finally do something she's long wanted to do: record a Christian music album.

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