Emilio Navaira III, the Grammy-winning singer considered the “King of Tejano Music,” was born to Emilio Navaira, Jr., and Mary Navaira in San Antonio, Texas, on August 23, 1962. Possessing a “rich, sturdy voice,” he was a Tejano and country music recording artist and performer for more than thirty years. He enjoyed wide popularity with audiences in both Texas and Mexico.
As a youngster, Navaira admired Texas music legends Little Joe y La Familia and Willie Nelson. After graduating from McCollum High School in 1980, he attended Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) on a music scholarship and planned a teaching career. A love of music, however, led him by the age of twenty-one, to become the lead vocalist for David Lee Garza y Los Musicales. In the late 1980s, Navaira and his brother Raúl founded Emilio y Grupo Rio. Soon afterward, he signed a recording contract with Columbia Records.
Between 1989 and 1996, Navaira released seven well-received Spanish-language albums, with sales reaching approximately two million. By the 1990s the singer began to bill himself as Emilio. For a few years he focused on country music. Capitol Records issued “It’s Not the End of the World,” his first country music single, in 1995. The song moved into the Top 30 on the country charts. Life is Good, his first country album, reached Number 13 on the country charts. However, Navaira soon returned to Tejano music and devoted himself to this genre for the remainder of his career. In 2003 his album Acuérdate won a Grammy for Best Tejano Album. His album De Nuevo, released in 2007, was awarded the Latin Grammy for Best Tejano Album.
Over the course of his career, Navaira recorded for a number of labels, including Capitol Nashville, RCA/BMG Latin, and Capitol/EMI Latin. Among his top albums were Emilio Live and Southern Exposure, both recorded in 1993, and Quédate, recorded in 1996. His popular singles included “¿Dónde andará?,” “Ya,” “Esperando su llamada,” “Lo dice tu Mirada,” and “Como le Hare.” ”It’s Not the End of the World” was his “most successful crossover hit.”
In the 1990s Navaira was a contemporary of the celebrated Tejana singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. The pair were known for their duet “Tu Robaste Mi Corazón.” In 1993 they performed together at the legendary “El Baile” concert in the Alamodome before an audience of 30,000. Navaira and his band were the final Tejano music act to perform for 69,000 fans at RodeoHouston in 2007.
On March 23, 2008, the singer suffered major brain injuries when the tour bus he was driving crashed in Bellaire, Houston. He later pled guilty to a DWI (driving while intoxicated) charge. After a long recovery, he resumed his career, punctuated by a comeback performance at the Tejano Music Awards in 2010. By 2015 he was once more touring and recording music. He played his “last known concert” in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, on May 11, 2016, only days before his death. During his career, he was honored with more than twenty Tejano Music Awards, including top male vocalist of the 1990s and five times for male entertainer of the year.
Emilio Navaira was married twice and became a father to five children, three of whom joined his band. On May 16, 2016, Navaira died, probably of a heart attack, at the age of fifty-three at his home in New Braunfels. A large public visitation and rosary were held for him at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio with approximately 12,000 in attendance. A Catholic funeral Mass officiated by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller was held on May 23, 2016, at San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio. More than 1,000 people attended the service. Tejano singers Roberto Púlido and Jay Pérez honored Navaira with “Una Día La Vez” as his casket was borne out of the cathedral. He was interred at San Juan Cemetery in Berg’s Mill in San Antonio.