DALLAS (AP) — Grammy-winning musician Emilio Navaira, famous for his mix of traditional Mexican music and accordion-based polka known as Tejano, has died at his home in Texas. He was 53.
Navaira, whose fans knew him simply as Emilio, was found unresponsive by his family Monday night at his home in New Braunfels, a city just northeast of his native San Antonio. Authorities believe he died of natural causes, according to New Braunfels police spokesman David Ferguson.
Navaira released nearly a dozen albums in Spanish and English during his career. Although he was best known for his Tejano music — he won a Grammy for best Tejano album in 2002, for his record "Acuerdate" — his work also included country music.
He had "one of the great voices in the history of Tejano music," said Juan Tejeda, Navaira's longtime friend and a Mexican-American studies and music instructor at Palo Alto College in San Antonio.
Navaira and his group, the Rio Band, made their mark during the late 1980s and early 1990s — the same time as the late singer Selena rose to fame — in the heyday of Tejano music, Tejeda said. Navaira had performed with bands since he was a teenager in San Antonio, and launched his solo career in 1989, according to his agent, Joe Casillas.
At the time, Navaira "really rose to the pinnacle of the Tejano music industry," Tejeda said, but noted that his friend "was a very humble guy."
"I'm from San Antonio and always will be," Navaira said in a 1995 interview with The Monitor newspaper. "We must be proud of where we came from and who we are to make it anywhere."
In 2008, Navaira was critically injured in a tour bus accident near Houston. He suffered head trauma and other injuries after being thrown through the windshield.
The injuries required several surgeries, and he wore a helmet for months to protect his skull. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving while intoxicated.
The accident kept Navaira from performing for several years, but he recently was appearing more often, Tejeda said.
"Little by little he was coming back, making a comeback," Tejeda said