Known as el idolo de Mexico and el rey throughout the Latin world, Vicente Fernandez, who started his career singing for tips on the street, has become a Mexican cultural icon, recording more than 50 albums and contributing to 40 movies. Although less well known to English-speaking audiences, he has consistently filled stadiums and venues throughout his 35-plus years of performing. His repertoire is pure ranchera, a style described by Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald as representing “the Mexico of old—a way of life romanticized by rural ranches, revolution, and philandering caballeros.”
Born on February 17, 1940, in Huentitan el Alto, Jalisco, Mexico, Fernandez spent the early years of his life on his father Ramon’s ranch on the outskirts of Guadalajara. Here the idyllic ranchera lifestyle was instilled in him. His mother often took him to see the films of Pedro Infante, the king of Mexican bolero. Fernandez told Leila Cobo of Billboard the significance of these films: “When I was 6 or 7, 1 would go see Pedro Infante’s movies, and I would tell my mother, ‘When I grow up, I’ll be like them.’” By age eight he had taken up the guitar and was practicing his singing in the style of the ranchera singers he heard on the radio.
In 1954 Fernandez won an amateur contest sponsored by a Guadalajara television station. It was his first break into performing and he began to play at local at clubs and gatherings. Around this time, however, Fernandez’s father lost the ranch and the family moved into the city of Tijuana. Fernandez, who had dropped out of school in the fifth grade, began working odd jobs in the city such as janitor, dishwasher, waiter—whatever he could find. All the while, he still held to his musical aspirations.
In 1960 Fernandez devoted himself to music full time. He went back to Guadalajara, where he performed in the streets for tips while also appearing occasionally on the television show La calandria musical. After a couple of years Fernandez tried his luck in Mexico City, where he found a job singing in a restaurant called El Amanacer Tapatio. When he wasn’t working he was auditioning for recording companies—and constantly being turned down.
The time Fernandez spent in Mexico City was discouraging. By 1963 he left to marry a former neighbor, Maria “Cuca” de Refugio Abarca Villasenor. They now have four children, the oldest of which, Vicente, Jr., was born three months premature in 1963; Fernandez’s mother died within a week of Vicente, Jr.’s, birth.
In 1966 tragedy created an opportunity for Fernandez. In the spring of that year, Javier Solis, Mexico’s most popular traditional singer, died. To fill the gap the record companies called on Fernandez. CBS Mexico, now Sony Discos, which had originally spurned Fernandez, now offered him a recording contract. He released his
Born on February 17, 1940, in Huentitan El Alto, Jalisco, Mexico; son of Ramon Fernandez (a rancher) and Paula Gomez de Fernandez (a homemaker); married Maria “Cuca” de Refugio Abarca Villasenor, 1963; four children.
Began playing guitar by age eight; won amateur contest in Guadalajara, 1954; performed on La calandria musical television show, 1960; moved to Mexico City, joined Mariachi Amanecer, sang in restaurants for tips, 1964; signed with CBS Mexico (now Sony Discos), recorded first single, “Perdoname,” 1966; appeared in Uno y medio contra el mundo, first Mexican film, 1971; first hit movie, La ley del monte, 1974; song “Volver, volver” made him a legend, 1976; assistant director for the film El tahur, 1979; toured Bolivia and Columbia, 1987; performed with Mariachi Chapala, 1997-; performed “Cielito lindo” at Republican National Convention, 2000; toured with son Alejandro Fernandez, 2001.
Awards: Key to the city of San Antonio, TX, 1982; Billboard/Univision Latin Music Awards, Mexican Regional Male Artist of the Year, 1989-93; Los Angeles City Hall passed a resolution in appreciation for his music and work for Latin communities worldwide, 1997; induction, Billboard Latin Music Hall of Fame, awarded star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1998; Latin Grammy Award, Best Regional Mexican Song for “Borracho te recuerdo,” 2001; Billboard Music Award, Greatest Hits Album of the Year for Historia de un idolo, Vol. 1, Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, Latin Grammy for Best Ranchero Album for Mas con el numero uno, and Legend Award, 2002.
first recording, “Perdonarne,” with the company in 1966; Fernandez still records for Sony Discos.
Fernandez’s career took off at that point and has been nonstop ever since. He branched into acting with the film Uno y medio contra el mundo, released in 1971. His first hit movie, for which he did the soundtrack, was La ley del monte, released in 1974. In the span of 20 years Fernandez has acted, sung, and worked behind the scenes on more than 40 films. He stopped acting in 1991, feeling that he was too old to maintain the proper image for his movies.
Fernandez works hard for his audiences and his performances are legendary. His adoring fans consistently pack the house, whatever the venue, from city squares to large arenas in the United States. He promises each audience that he’ll sing until they are tired, making his concerts last from two and a half to four hours. Maintaining the ranchera tradition, Fernandez always performs wearing the charro, an embroidered suit and sombrero. He explained to Matt Weitz of the Dallas Morning News, “[T]o me it’s [the charro] Mexico’s second flag. When I put it on, I become an ambassador.”
His pride in tradition and dedication to his fans has led to him to perform when many other artists would have canceled. His father died in 1970, just as Fernandez was about to go onstage. Overwhelmed by the tragic news but determined not to let the crowd go without a show, Fernandez went onstage and performed. In 1998 Fernandez continued to tour despite the kidnaping of his oldest son. (He was released four months later when ransom was paid.)
Fernandez has recorded more than 50 albums in 35 years and claims to have 300 more songs recorded—making another 30 albums possible even if he retires. When he records an album he spends 12-13 hours in the studio recording up to 18 songs. He takes a day off and then returns for another marathon session, recording another 15 or more songs. From those recordings, he and his producer choose 12. Fernandez’s greatest hit was “Volver, volver,” released in 1976; his first million-selling album was 1983’s 15 Grandes con el numero uno. In 1987 he launched his first tour outside the United States and Mexico when he traveled to Bolivia and Columbia.
By the end of the 1980s Fernandez had been famous for more than 20 years, yet he had never earned a major award and was beginning to think he would have to die before he was recognized. His patience was rewarded in 1990 when he released the album Vicente Fernandez y las clasicas de Jose Alfredo Jimenez, a tribute to Mexico’s most famous songwriter, Jose Alfredo Jimenez. The album earned him Billboard and Univision’s Latin Music Award for Mexican Regional Male Artist of the Year, which he won five times from 1989 to 1993. Other awards and recognition followed, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2002 Fernandez was recognized by the Latin Recording Academy as Person of the Year. The same year he celebrated his thirty-fifth anniversary in the entertainment industry, a career in which he has sold more than 43 million records. He has 51 albums listed on the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) registry for gold, platinum, and multiplatinum selling records. With 35 years of experience under his belt, Fernandez has helped maintain a Mexican tradition that may very well pass away when he does. For someone who was told he’d be better off selling peanuts than singing professionally, Fernandez has made a tremendous impact on the music of his homeland.
La voz que usted esperaba, Sony Discos, 1968.
Vicente Fernandez, Sony Discos, 1969.
Ni en defensa propia, Sony Discos, 1970.
Soy DE ABAJO, Sony Discos, 1970.
Camino inseguro, Sony Discos, 1971.
Es muy tu vida, Sony Discos, 1971.
EI Jalisciense, Sony Discos, 1972.
Si no te quisiera, Sony Discos, 1972.
15 grandes con el numero uno, Sony Discos, 1973.
El idolo de mexico, Sony Discos, 1973.
El rey, Sony Discos, 1974.
El hijo del pueblo, Sony Discos, 1975.
La ley del monte, Sony Discos, 1975.
Pos los palenques, Sony Discos, 1977.
El tahur, Sony Discos, 1979.
Alejandro y los valses clasicos, Sony Discos, 1981.
El numero uno, Sony Discos, 1981.
15 nuevos éxitos con el idolo, Sony Discos, 1984.
Vicente Fernandez y las clasicas de Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Sony Discos, 1990.
El charro Mexicano, Sony Discos, 1991.
Recordando a los panchos, Sony Discos, 1993.
Vicente y sus canciones, Sony Discos, 1996.
Entre el amoryyo, Sony Discos, 1998.
Historia de un idolo, Vol. 1, Sony Discos, 2000.
Mas con el numero uno, Sony Discos, 2001.
Historia de un idolo, Vol. 2, Sony Discos, 2002.
Billboard, April 11, 1998; August 31, 2002.
Chicago Sun-Times, November 3, 1997, p. 34.
Dallas Morning News, October 7, 1994, p. 30; October 10, 1994, p. 19A.
Houston Chronicle, September 26, 1993, p. 15; March 29, 1998, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1992, p. 1; November 21, 1997, p. B4; May 22, 1999, p. A1; August 15, 2000, p. F3;
Miami Herald, October 31, 2001, p. 20A.
Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), September 19, 2002, p .19A.
“Latin Music Legends: Vicente Fernandez,” Association of Hispanic Arts, http://www.latinoarts.org/bookstore/vfernandez.htm (February 2, 2003).
“Vicente Fernandez, El Idolo de Mexico, Pulse!,http://pulse.towerrecords.com/contentStory.asp7contentlch2565 (February 2, 2003).
—Eve M. B. Hermann
"Fernandez, Vicente." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/fernandez-vicente
"Fernandez, Vicente." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/fernandez-vicente
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Born: Vicente Fernández; Huentitán El Alto, Jalisco, Mexico, 17 February 1940
Best-selling album since 1990: Entre el Amor y Yo (1998)
Hit songs since 1990: "Lástima Que Seas Ajena," "Aunque Me Duela el Alma," "Me Voy a Quitar de en Medio"
Known as "El Idolo de Mexico" (the Idol of Mexico) among Spanish speakers for his chart-topping albums and sold-out tours, the ranchera singer Vicente Fernández embodies the valiant Mexican cowboy that figures so largely in the Mexican psyche. Ranchera music is the quintessential Mexican song form, idealizing rural life and drenching tales of love and breakups in unrestrained emotion. Fernández nearly always performs his rancheras with a mariachi backing. His gift for using his voice to plead, to exult, to taunt, and to bare his soul is unmatched. Though not a songwriter, he has a gift for recording songs that speak to Mexico's fatalism, romanticism, and machismo. From the humblest cantinas to family get-togethers to the preppiest discos, Mexicans use his music to heal broken hearts, to bond, to reaf-firm their roots. He has inspired hundreds of imitators, but none could match his operatic power and range. His impact in ranchera is comparable to Frank Sinatra's legacy in American pop standards. Despite his many achievements, Fernández remains proud of his humble roots, as Sinatra was.
Spot Light: Las Clásicas de José Alfredo Jiménez
Vicente Fernández's defining moment on record came in 1990, when Fernández, Mexico's greatest ranchera singer, released the album Las Clásicas de José Alfredo Jiménez, a tribute to Jiménez, Mexico's greatest ranchera songwriter. Like many great composers, Jiménez drew inspiration from the tragedies in his own life. He wrote more than 300 songs in his career, many of which have become classics. His death, on November 23, 1973, plunged Mexico into a period of national mourning. The album resonates with the driving emotional force of Jiménez's words and Fernández's powerful vocals. These are gripping tales, but they are also melodic, lyrical, and richly harmonic set against symphonic-like mariachi arrangements. In "Un Mundo Raro" ("A Rare World"), Jiménez describes surviving an unrequited love to walk away a better man. With his powerful vocals Fernández delivers the message in typical macho swagger: "Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved." Cascading violins and echoing horns evoke a sentimental mood. In "Viejos Amigos" ("Old Friends"), a gesture so simple as holding hands is made to sound incredibly romantic. In a touching scene Jiménez describes looking into the beautiful, tear-filled face of the woman he loves and has never gotten over: "Let me see you crying, let me be by your side." Even the toughest macho has to be moved.
Born to a rancher, Ramón Fernández, and a homemaker, Paula Gomez de Fernández, Fernández began dreaming of a singing career early. When he was eight, he received a guitar and quickly learned how to play. At fourteen, he entered an amateur contest in Guadalajara, where he won first place. Later relocating to Guadalajara, he performed in a mariachi band that worked the city's streets. He married Maria "Cuca" de Refugio Abarca Villasenor, a neighbor, in 1963. Among their four children are sons Vicente Jr. and Alejandro, who went on to successful solo careers of their own. In late 1965 Fernández traveled to Mexico City, auditioning at record labels. In the summer of 1966, he signed with CBS México (now Sony Discos), recording his first hits: "Perdóname," "Tu Camino y El Mío," and "Cantina del Barrio."
But it was not until 1976 that Fernández became the undisputed ranchera king. The songwriter Fernando Z. Maldonado had penned a ranchera tune with a new twist about a macho who accepted blame and acquiesced in a relationship. The angle may have been new, but the song made an impact. "Volver, Volver" went on to become an anthem in the mariachi ranchera canon. The song pole-vaulted Fernández to international stardom and began his string of unforgettable hits. In the ensuing years Fernández recorded a half dozen other standards, including "La Ley del Monte," "El Rey," and "El Penal."
By the early 1980s the Mexican music press coined a new title for him—"El Ídolo de México"—and it stuck. He continued his streak of hits through the 1990s, with "Aunque Me Duela El Alma" (1995) and "Me Voy a Quitar de En Medio" (1998), the theme song to Univision's popular soap opera La Mentira. That year, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
His 2001 studio set Más Con El Número Uno produced the hit "El Ayudante," a macho ranchera expressing a mix of resignation and satisfaction about an affair with a married woman. It was written by Manuel Eduardo Toscano, who penned the hit "Sublime Mujer" off Fernández's 1998 CD Entre el Amor y Yo.
In 2002 Fernández was named the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year by the Latin Grammy association for his artistic accomplishments and for donating ticket proceeds to the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund. In addition to the scholarship fund, Fernández helps out his rural fans by waiving his performance fee at small-town Mexican fairs.
Las Clásicas de José Alfredo Jiménez (Discos CBS, 1990); Lástima Que Seas Ajena (Sony Discos, 1993); Aunque Me Duela el Alma (Sony Discos, 1995); Entre el Amor y Yo (Sony Discos, 1998); Más Con el Número Uno (Sony Discos, 2001).
"Fernández, Vicente." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fernandez-vicente
"Fernández, Vicente." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fernandez-vicente