Johnny Canales, the Mexican television host whose program introduced new musical acts to wide audiences, including a young Selena Quintanilla in the 1980s, has died.

His death was announced on Thursday by his show’s Facebook account. No additional details were given. His wife, Nora Canales, said in a video update on May 20 that he had been ill. Mr. Canales was believed to be in his late 70s or early 80s, though his year of birth was unclear.

For many rising acts beginning in the 1980s, to be invited to perform on Mr. Canales’s bilingual variety show was considered a milestone and a chance to gain new fans on a program that was watched by millions.

Some acts that performed on his show went on to become household names. He also became a popular TV host, known for introducing performances with his catchphrase: “You got it. Take it away.”

“The Johnny Canales Show” debuted on KRIS in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1983. The program was later picked up by Univision, which expanded the show’s reach beyond South Texas.

Mr. Canales had many groups and singers perform on his show over the years, including La Mafia, La Sombra, Los Temerarios and Ramon Ayala. But perhaps the one who went on to become the most popular was a teenage Selena Quintanilla, as Selena y Los Dinos, in 1985, in what was one of the singer’s first live TV performances.

“She’s got something,” Mr. Canales said an in a 2015 interview with Univision’s long-running morning show “Despierta América” about the first time Selena performed on his program. “Except, I scolded her once because she didn’t know how to speak Spanish.”

Mr. Canales said in the interview that he was impressed that the young Selena could sing and dance so well, and that every time she returned to his program, her performances improved, and so did her Spanish.

Ms. Quintanilla and her band, los Dinos, initially performed Tejano music, a rich blend of traditional Mexican music influenced by pop in the United States. She later began mixing in R&B into her songs.

“Keep on trucking,” Mr. Canales said he told Ms. Quintanilla as her career progressed.

Ms. Quintanilla was shot and killed in 1995 at the age of 23 by the former president of her fan club. She was often referred to as the Queen of Tejano music.

Ramón Hernández, a writer, photographer, historian and musicologist, told The Los Angeles Times in 2020 that Mr. Canales was the “Mexican American equivalent of Dick Clark because he broke everyone in.”

“You didn’t have to be famous, you didn’t have to have a top-selling record,” Mr. Hernández said. “He would just put you on.”

The guests of Mr. Canales extended beyond musical acts. He also invited comedians, actors and politicians on his program.

In July 2015, Mr. Canales invited Donald J. Trump on his show, about a month after Mr. Trump had announced his candidacy for president in a speech in which he said some Mexican immigrants were bringing crime.

“We Mexican and Mexican-Americans are noble,” Mr. Canales wrote in a public invitation to Mr. Trump. “That’s why I’m offering you an invitation to come to our show and give a simple apology, or at least recognize all Mexican and Mexican-American Veterans who have served and have died for this country.”

Mr. Canales’s show continued on other networks, including Telemundo, through 2020, with some breaks amid health issues. Ms. Canales, his wife, said in 2022 that in recent years he had been treated for a stroke and also needed a quadruple bypass.

Juan José Canales was born in General Treviño, Nuevo León in the early 1940s. The exact year is unclear.

When he was less than 2 months old, his family moved to Robstown, Texas, about 20 miles west of Corpus Christi, where he spent much of his life.

Growing up, he shined shoes for 10 cents and sang songs in bars for 25 cents, he told The Laredo Morning Times. After graduating from Robstown High School, Mr. Canales was drafted and served two and a half years with the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany, until he was honorably discharged.

After serving in the Army, he returned to Texas, where he worked as a D.J. for a Spanish-language radio station and started a band, “Johnny Canales y su Orchestra.”

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters.

After taking a few years off with health issues, Mr. Canales said in 2011 that he would return to his program to support new acts again.

“We can come back and really help our people,” he said. “Because this is our music.”

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.



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