Laura Canales, 50, a soulful Tejano singer who stormed the stage at a time when men tended to hog the Tejano limelight, died April 16 of complications from bladder surgery at Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi, Tex.
Known in the 1980s as La reina de la onda tejana (Queen of the Tejano Wave), she blazed a trail for other female musicians, including Selena, the Tejano superstar who was shot to death a decade ago.
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Tejano music, a fusion of Mexican country and traditional folk music that has long been popular on borderland ranchos and in small-town dance halls, broke into the wider culture in the 1970s. Beginning her career in the early years of that decade, shortly after graduating from high school, Ms. Canales rode the Tejano wave.
"She was the lady who broke the gender barrier," said family spokesman Javier "J.V." Villanueva, chief executive of the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame. "At the time, it was taboo for female artists to front bands or perform in public. We were still living in the machismo era. But here came Laura, and she just took the Tejano world by storm."
She made her recording debut in 1973 with a group called Unicos, and her first regional hit was a cover of Linda Ronstadt's "Midnight Blue," with a group called Snowball and Company. For four years running, beginning in 1983, she won both the Female Entertainer and Female Vocalist honors at the Tejano Music Awards. Her 1990 album, "No Regrets," stayed on the Tejano charts for 13 weeks.
Villanueva noted that Tejano music's affinity with the country-and-western tradition accustomed audiences to hearing male singers bewail the women who done them wrong. "But here comes Laura singing about the men who done them wrong," he said, "and all the women were saying, 'Wow, that's me!' "
Ms. Canales was born to a middle-class family in Kingsville, a South Texas town about a hundred miles from the Mexican border. Blessed with a rich, supple voice and a friendly, exuberant personality, she continued performing until recently. More recent hits included the songs "Cuatro caminos," "Dame la mano" and "Dile a tu esposa."
Her three marriages ended in divorce.
Survivors include her mother, Maria Elena Canales, and a brother both of Kingsville.