One of the pioneers of traditional Mexican music, La Reina del Bolero (Queen of the Bolero), as Chelo Silva was known, reigned over the Tejano music scene with her romantic ballads and passionate performances.
Silva, the oldest of seven children, was born Consuelo Silva on August 25, 1922, in Brownsville, Texas. She began singing as a teenager at school and in her church. Her talent was evident early on. By her late teens, Silva was singing regularly with a local group, the Tito Crixell Orchestra.
By the late 1930s, Silva was already a local celebrity. In 1939, she was asked to sing on a local radio program hosted by the poet, composer, and author Americo Paredes. The appearance gave Silva wider exposure and opened the door for her to begin making money singing radio jingles. It wasn't long before she was performing regularly at Corpus Christi's Continental Club. Silva also later married, and divorced, Paredes.
However, Silva struggled before she was able to secure a recording contract. She toiled in regional venues for years before she was noticed. It wasn't until she was thirty that she landed her first record deal with Discos Falcón of McAllen, Texas, where she would go on to record over seventy titles.
By 1955, her popularity had eclipsed Discos Falcón, and she sought the attention of larger record labels, subsequently signing with Columbia Records. The move paid off almost immediately as Silva put together an impressive string of hit songs, including “Imploración,” “Esta Sellado,” “Sabes de Que Tenga Ganas,” “Soy Bohemia,” “Inolvidable,” and “Amor Aventurero.”
Even though she was a contemporary of the legendary singer Lydia Mendoza, Silva was still considered the queen of the bolero, or slow ballad. Her flowing style, which incorporated stylized phrasing and bent notes, made each song she interpreted her own. She also integrated a rebellious image that was not commonly used by female artists of the time. Singing songs with lyrics discussing such taboo topics as insuppressible desires and failed affairs, Silva could be seen as somewhat controversial.
The success of her Columbia recordings led to several touring opportunities throughout the Southwest and Mexico, including tours with then-notable stars such as José Alfredo Jiménez, Javier Solis, Vicente Fernández, and Lola Beltrán. By the 1960s, Silva was the most well known of the female Spanish-language singers, her popularity reaching outside the United States and into Latin America.
In 1988, Silva died of cancer at the age of sixty-five. Fortunately for fans and historians, much of her music has resurfaced in the form of reissues and compilations. Following the death of the Tejana superstar Selena, there was a resurgence in the root music that had paved the way for younger generations.
In 1995, Arhoolie Records released “Chelo Silva,” a best-of collection that includes some of Silva's most-loved songs, including “Imploración,” “Esta Sellado,” and “Amor Aventurero.” Years after her death, Chelo Silva remains one of the most influential figures in the history of Mexican music. Her passionate delivery and fiery singing style will continue to move fans for generations to come.