Shelly Lares was only 10 when her voice started opening doors. It was 1982, and her older sister, Laura, had hired a band for her wedding reception.
“She knew I wanted to be a singer,” Lares recalls. “So she asked the band if I could perform a song with them.” The band was so impressed that they invited Lares to become their lead singer. The following weekend, with her parents’ permission, the youngster began singing with the band on weekends at weddings, festivals and other events.
“To be honest, we thought this was something she’d outgrow,” says her mother and manager, Irene, 66.
Instead, Lares, now 34, has become an international superstar of Tejano music, recording 13 solo albums and winning eight Tejano Music Awards trophies. Tejano means “Texan” in Spanish, and the musical genre reflects the mix of cultures in the area of south Texas near the state’s border with Mexico. Originally a hybrid of Mexican folk and the popular Big Band swing of post-World War II, Tejano now encompasses a broad, eclectic swath of influences from country to rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop. “I know what I want my sound to be, and I know what the fans expect of me,” says Lares, who tours primarily throughout Texas on weekends. “To the fans, the most important thing is that you’re true to yourself musically.”
Lares, who is single and lives in San Antonio, is Tejano’s reigning female entertainer and female vocalist, a double-category victory she also won in 2002 and 2004. When the 2006 Tejano Music Awards are presented March 18 in Eagle Pass, Texas, Lares will vie for three more trophies: female entertainer, female vocalist and album of the year.
“One word can describe Shelly: dynamite,” says Robert Arellano, chairman of the Texas Talent Musicians Association. “She comes onstage with lots of energy and charisma.”
When Lares emerged in the late 1980s, Tejano music was dominated by all-male bands. Only a few female singers were making waves at the time, including Laura Canales, sometimes known as “Tejano’s Barbra Streisand,” and Selena, the 23-year-old rising star whose career was tragically cut short in 1995 when she was shot and killed by her former fan club president.
Selena’s death brought national attention to Tejano music, and mainstream radio stations and their audiences found the genre’s diverse blend had appeal well beyond Texas.
“Tejano music has definitely been expanding,” says Lares, who, like many Tejano artists, sings in both Spanish and English. “Tejano artists are recording more in English and starting to get more airplay, especially on country radio stations in Texas.” She teamed last year with two of the format’s other top female stars, Elida Reyna and Stefani Montiel, to form the group Las 3 Divas, which entertained U.S. military troops on a tour of Guam, Korea and Japan. The trio also recorded an album that was nominated for a Grammy. Lares was such a hit on the tour that she was invited to return solo later this year.
Despite Tejano’s growing national profile and her own success, Lares is down to earth and uses her talents to help others. She does charity work with youth organizations, and last year volunteered as a substitute teacher upon learning that local schools were in need.
Irene says her daughter is a superstar in the making who always remembers the hard work and support from fans and family that got her there. “Her dad told her early on, ‘It takes everybody to get you where you are—it’s not just about you,’” her mother recalls. “She’s never forgotten that.”
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