Laura Canales, known as “La Reina de la Onda Tejana” (“Queen of the Tejano Wave”), was born on August 19, 1954, in Kingsville, Texas. She grew up in Kingsville in a Mexican-American middle class family. Shortly after graduating from H. M. King High School in Kingsville, she made her stage debut in the early 1970s with the group Los Unicos. She also sang with El Conjunto Bernal from 1973 to 1975. After working as the lead vocalist with Snowball and Company, Felicidad, and Los Fabulosos Cuatro, Canales formed her own group, Laura Canales and Encanto in 1981.
Canales recorded her first single, “Midnight Blue,” in 1975. Over the next two decades, she recorded more than twenty albums and CDs and became increasingly popular as an interpreter of contemporary Tejano music, which earned her the title “La Reina de la Onda Tejana.” Among her well-known hits are “Eternamente,” “O Gran Dios,” “No Lastimes Mas,” “Cinco Canas Mas,” and “Miki-Wiki.” Her 1990 album, No Regrets, remained on the Tejano music charts for thirteen weeks. She won her first “Female Entertainer” and first “Female Vocalist of the Year” awards from the Tejano Music Awards in 1983 and was recognized with this honor several more times. In 2000 she was among the first group of musicians inducted into the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. (Recognizing our Own Tejano Stars) Hall of Fame.
In the mid-1980s she left Laura Canales and Encanto for a sabbatical from performing. In 1988 she returned to the Tejano music industry and worked for six months as a disc jockey for KYST-AM Radio in Houston. In 1989 she was signed by Capitol EMI Latin to a five-year recording contract, and she worked with Los Fabulosos Cuatro to promote her new work.
Canales, who was said to possess a “rich, supple voice and a friendly, exuberant personality,” gained a legion of devoted fans during her career. Her popularity may have been in part due to her adherence to the Tejano conjunto tradition. She always retained an accordion player in her musical group and regularly offered a performance lineup of “traditionally polka-based conjunto.” Canales considered conjunto music the foundation of the Tejano sound and never abandoned the genre. She was also a trailblazer for women in the male-dominated Tejano music industry. Her success in breaking down barriers to female singers is credited with helping make possible the careers of another generation of singers such as Selena and Shelly Lares.
For her contributions to the world of entertainment, Canales was recognized by Gov. Mark White who honored her with the “Yellow Rose of Texas” accolade in 1983. That same year San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros named her “Alcalde de San Antonio” and “First Lady of Song in South Texas.”
Because her singing career brought her a strong following among high school Tejano students, Laura Canales strove to serve as a role model for young people. She set an example for them when she enrolled at Texas A&M University in Kingsville to pursue a university education. She completed her bachelor’s degree at the school in 1997, more than twenty years after graduating from high school. At her death she was working on a master’s degree.
Laura Canales had been performing with the Leyendas y Raises tour, which included such notable Tejano musicians as Augustín Ramírez, Sunny Ozuna, and Freddie Martínez in 2005, when she became ill. After undergoing gall bladder surgery on March 28, 2005, at Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi, she contracted pneumonia and suffered other complications. She died a few weeks later on April 16, 2005, at the age of fifty.
In death, Laura Canales was remembered with a rosary and funeral service attended by hundreds of friends, fans, and fellow musicians. She was eulogized by Javier Villanueva, leader of the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame and Museum, who recalled her as a “loving daughter, sister, friend, and legend.” In an overwhelming outpouring of grief over her death, more than 12,000 messages of condolences were sent by her fans to the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame online site in the days following her death. After the celebration of a funeral mass in her memory at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in her hometown of Kingsville, Laura Canales was buried on April 21, 2005, at the city’s Santa Gertrudis Cemetery.