While many child stars crash and burn by the time they reach adulthood, Mexican singer Pedro Fernández has made the jump from pre-teen prodigy to full-grown superstar with more than 25 LPs to his name, something largely attributed to his ability to reinvent himself and adapt to the changing tastes of audiences. In a career spanning two decades, Fernández has won over fans with dozens of chart hits throughout Mexico and Latin America. Despite his commercial success as a singer of romantic pop ballads, his return to the ranchera and traditional mariachi music of his childhood has accompanied a younger generation of Mexicans as they took a renewed interest in their country's traditional music.
Born José Martín Cuevas Cobos in Guadalajara, Jalisco, on September 28, 1969, Fernández spent his childhood in west-central Mexico, listening to a radio station that broadcast only rancheras. Ranchera music, a rural form featuring guitars and horns that is often likened to American country music, has gone from its rural roots and immense popularity in northern Mexico to become synonymous with Mexico as a nation. Mariachi music, in the same tradition, also uses guitars and horns and is performed by Mexican street bands. Fernández was a restless, almost hyperactive child who directed part of his energy, from as early as age three, to interpreting some of the ranchera and mariachi songs he heard on the radio.
Fernández adopted a stage name that reflected his love affair with ranchera music and two of its icons: Pedro Infante and Vicente Fernández. Moved by the young boy's rendition of the song Las carreras de caballos (Horse races), Vicente Fernández helped him get his first record contract, under the tutelage of producer Rúben Galindo. At the age of seven, Pedro Fernández rose to national fame with his work in the theme song for the film La Niña de La Mochila Azul (The Girl with the Blue Knapsack), in which he also played a starring role. His instant success won him additional recording and film contracts and consolidated his image as a child prodigy. Joined by another child star, María Rebeca, Fernández went on to costar in the films El Oreja Rajada, La Mugrosita, and La Niña de la Mochila Azul II.
As his repertoire shifted toward romantic ballads, his audience widened to include other parts of Latin America and the United States. Slipping away from his musical roots, Fernández began recording pop hits such as "El Perdedor," "Maniquí," and "Coqueta." He met his future wife, Rebeca, as she was being crowned state beauty queen from Reynosa, Tamaulipas. "The songs in each one of my projects are dedicated to my family, but not because a song says anything about us, but because I dedicate my work to the people I love, and in this case they are my wife and my three daughters, Osmara, Karina, and Gema," he told the La-Musica.com website.
Despite his sojourn in the musical territory of popular ballad singers like Luis Miguel, Fernández later returned to Mexican roots music, interpreting songs such as José Alfredo Jiménez's classic Amenecí en tus brazos. Fernández's label, Universal Music in Mexico, described the artist's journey: "A lover of Mexican music and of his roots, the artist broke with the idea people had of Mexican music, making it so that young people enjoyed it and took pride in our heritage, thus making him the most successful contemporary singer in our country, the United States and Latin America." Fernández lent Mexican traditional music a somewhat subdued voice in his pop ballads, and his work scored gold and platinum albums in the United States, Chile, and Venezuela. While Lo mucho que te quiero sold some 300,000 albums, this was later topped by Mi forma de sentir, which sold half a million copies. Over his 20-year career, the artist has sold more than four million albums and has appeared before fans in countless fairs, theaters and auditoriums.
When Pope John Paul II visited Mexico in 2001, Fernández, dressed in white, led other mariachis in serenading him upon his departure with the traditional song "Las golondrinas" (The sparrows). While the Pope did not come to the window to hear Fernández perform with his wife and daughters, the music was reportedly heard from inside the nunciature.
Also in 2001, at the Viña del Mar music festival in Chile, Fernández appeared onstage in his traditional blue charro suit along with ten Chilean dancers and 25 mariachis. That year he won popular acclaim with his interpretation of "Yo no fuí," a song by the late Pedro Infante. The song's success surpassed his own expectations, a "phenomenon" he attributed to the audience taking the song and giving it a new life. "The phenomenon caused by this new version of the song popularized nearly fifty years ago by the late Pedro Infante has been incredible," reported Reuters. "The song is heard constantly on all the local radio stations, it is at the top of the pop charts, and is even played in discotheques." The album Yo no fuí went on to win the award for Best Ranchero Album at the second annual Latin Grammy Awards in 2001. With his album De Corazón, Fernández was once again nominated for Best Ranchero Album at the 2003 Latin Grammy Awards ceremony, where the eventual winner was none other than his childhood idol, Vicente Fernández.
The massive migration from Jalisco and other Mexican states to the United States has guaranteed Fernández a large potential audience north of the border. In 2002 McDonald's contracted with the singer to appear in a commercial that targeted Latino customers. Despite his concert tours and popularity in the United States, he has flatly ruled out singing in English. "That will never happen because my public and my roots are Latin. Recording one or two songs in English isn't the same as recording a whole album, and that's why I don't ever plan to abandon my Latin roots," he told Reuters. However, he has reportedly entertained the idea of mixing mariachi music with other genres.
Fernández has continued to record and tour. In 2004 he prepared to join fellow former child pop star Lucerito in presiding over the 15th annual Fiesta Broadway, a Latin music event drawing nearly half a million spectators to a Cinco de Mayo celebration in downtown Los Angeles.
La De la Mochila Azul, Sony, 1992.
Lo Mucho Que Te Quiero, Polygram, 1993.
Pedro Fernández, Polygram, 1995.
Mi Forma De Sentir, Polygram, 1995.
Personalidad, Sony, 1996.
Querida, Sony, 1996.
Deseos y Delirios, Polygram, 1996.
Tributo a Jose Alfredo Jimenez, T.H. Rodven, 1997.
Adventurero, T.H. Rodven, 1998.
Lo Mas Romantico de Pedro Fernández, Universal, 1999.
Yo No Fuí Universal, 2000.
De Corazón, Universal, 2002.
For the Record …
Born José Martín Cuevas Cobos on on September 28, 1969, in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico; married; wife's name Rebeca; children: Osmara, Karina, and Gema.
Began singing and acting career at age seven, rising to national fame for acting and musical participation in the film La Niña de la Mochila Azul; recorded more than 25 LPs and performed regularly at fairs, festivals, theaters and other concert venues throughout Mexico, the United States and Latin America.
Awards: Latin Grammy Award, Best Ranchero Album for Yo no fuí, 2001.
Addresses: Record company—Universal Music Latino, 100 N. First St., 3rd Fl., Burbank, CA 91502, website: http://www.universal.com.mx.
Mis 30 Mejores Canciones, Sony, 2003.
Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2004
Reuters, February 22, 2001.
"Así es Pedro Fernández (part I)," Terra, http://www.terra.com.gt/ocio/articulo/html/oci38379.htm (April 22, 2004).
LaMusica.com, http://statistics.lamusica.com/main/pedrofernandez_int_103100.shtml (April 22, 2004).
McDonald's press release, http://www.media.mcdonalds.com/secured/news/pressreleases/2002/Press_Release11132002.html (November 13, 2002).
"Pedro Fernandez," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 22, 2004).
RadioNotas.com, http://www.radionotas.com/noticias/08_2002/01_artistas_despiden.htm (August 1, 2002).
"Un cantante que nació con buena estrella (part II)," Terra, http://www.terra.com.gt/ocio/articulo/html/oci38384.htm (April 22, 2004).
Univision Radio, http://www.univision.net/jsp/en/urg.jsp (April 22, 2004).
—Brett Allan King
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