More than just the undisputed king of Mexico's traditional ranchera music, Vicente Fernández -- "El Idolo de Mexico" -- is one of that country's most recognizable and influential cultural icons. Since his emergence in the mid-'60s, Fernández's popularity has escalated to the point that his status among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans has been likened to that of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley in the United States. His concerts in both Mexico and the U.S. routinely sell out despite a near-total dearth of non-Latino media coverage, and his 100-plus albums have sold in excess of 50 million copies. Fernández has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, been nominated for Grammy Awards, and collected a number of honors, including being named Person of the Year by the Latin Recording Academy in 2002 and garnering membership in the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.
With his supersized sombreros, prominent black mustache, eye-popping costumes, and an orchestra overpopulated with horns and string players in glittery, matching mariachi outfits, the glitzy Fernández on-stage is an imposing, larger-than-life figure. Matching his visual presentation is an operatic voice that plumbs the depths of the emotional spectrum to connect on an intimate level with his audience, who relate to the singer's humble beginnings and everyman song lyrics.
Vicente Fernández Gomez was born February 17, 1940 in Huentitan del Alto, Jalisco, Mexico. His youth was marked by struggle. Forced to drop out of school in the fifth grade to help support his family, he held a number of odd jobs. He began to sing and play guitar at age eight and won amateur contests almost from the start. Fernández lore claims that he would go to Guadalajara, where he would stop cars and offer to sing for the drivers for a few pesos. By the early '60s, he had turned semi-professional, singing with local mariachi bands. Moving to Mexico City, he joined Pepe Mendoza's band, Amanecer, and then the band led by José Luis Aguilar.
In Mexico City, Fernández was regularly rejected by record labels, but he was finally noticed by CBS Mexico in 1966. His career did not take off quickly. Although he managed to sell modest quantities of albums and singles, began appearing in Mexican films (he has been in more than 25 to date), and logged such hit singles as "Tu Camino y el Mio" and "Cantina del Barrio," it wasn't until 1976, ten years into his recording career, that Fernández truly began his ascent to the top. "Volver, Volver," a ranchera written by Fernando Z. Maldonado, became a massive hit, its lyrics of forgiveness in a relationship touching a nerve among listeners. The song established Fernández not only in his home country but in other Spanish-speaking populations, including the millions of Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Many Mexican music groups cover the song when they perform live.
From that point on, Fernández could seemingly do no wrong. His every single and album was a hit, and the public adored him. He became the first performer to sell out Mexico's Plaza de Toros bullfighting stadium, singing to over 50,000 fans. In the U.S., he has sold out such large-capacity venues as New York's Madison Square Garden, where he once shared a bill with his son, Alejandro Fernández, himself a major singing star. Vicente Fernández, Jr., one of the star's other sons, is also a well-known singer. In 2005, Fernández opened a covered rodeo arena on his ranch outside of Guadalajara. He named it after himself. He followed the album with the multi-platinum-selling La Tragedia del Vaquero in 2006.
After marathon sessions with producer Joan Sebastian (who wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the set with Miguel Trujillo), Fernandez released his 79th album, Para Siempre, in 2007. It would net him five charting singles and hit the top spot on the Mexican and Latin albums charts, as well as Mexico's pop chart. It sold over two million copies globally, and became the best-selling Regional Mexican album in the U.S. during the new century's first decade.
Fernandez, in his late sixties, went on a Latin Grammy tear beginning with 2009's Primera Fila, followed by 2010's Necesito de Ti, which also won the Grammy Award for Best Regional Mexican Album. In addition, Latin Grammy wins continued for 2011's El Hombre Que Más Te Amó and 2013's Hoy. He was nominated for 2014's Mano a Mano: Tangos a la Manera de Vicente Fernández, a changeup album that featured the singer and an all-star band of mariachi musicians performing classic Argentinian songs.
In July of 2015, the 75-year-old Fernandez issued the pre-release single "No Vuelvas por Favor." It debuted in the Top 20 on the Mexican Regional Songs chart and was followed by the album Muriendo de Amor in October. The following year, Fernandez bid fans farewell with a final concert performance at Mexico City's Estadio Azteca. The concert was recorded for a double-disc album and DVD, which arrived in late 2016. Un Azteca en el Azteca, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 featured all his classic hits, including "El Rey" and "Volver, Volver." ~ Jeff Tamarkin & Thom Jurek