The life of a select group of entertainers comes in stages. Popular entertainers are often thought of as being “larger than life.” These entertainers often have something about themselves that makes them transcend their profession, be it singing, acting, or dancing, and this something makes them “a household name.” When a household name stays relevant for decades, they then become a “legend.”Legends that represent a culture or group of people with ideals become known as an “icon.” Still, none of these terms or names can do justice to the man simply known as “El Rey de Ranchera,” Vicente Fernandez. The singer, also known as “The King of Ranchera” is arguably Mexico’s biggest star, having recorded a whopping 51 RIAA certified Gold, Platinum, and Multi-Platinum albums and selling well over 50 million records in his career. “I’ve always said there aren’t great composers- there are great songs,” Vicente believes. With a voice like his, it’s easy to see why this sentiment rings true, as when “Chente” sings; it is from his heart and soul. Known for his amazingly powerful and dedicated concert performances-he once took the stage despite learning of his father’s tragic death just minutes before-his fans appreciate his efforts, which have been known to result in performances lasting between 21/2 to 4 hours long! El Rey never disappoints, and he never takes this stage without first donning the charro, a traditional Mexican embroidered suit and sombrero. “To me, it’s Mexico’s second flag. When I put it on, I become an ambassador,” Vicente says proudly. This rare combination of cultural pride, work ethic, and amazing vocal talent place Chente in his own category, and it is easy to see why he is so well loved.
Vicente Fernandez Gomez was born in Huentitan el Alto, Jalisco, Mexico in 1940, into a hardworking ranching family. As a boy, he grew up idolizing Mexican actor Pedro Infante, so much so that he once told his mother, “When I grow up, I’ll be like him.” The hardworking boy helped his uncle by working in his restaurant as a waiter, dishwasher, cashier, and manager, but his dream of singing still motivated him the most, as he had been practicing his guitar playing and singing since the age of 8. Although he was booed in his first public singing appearance, he pushed on, winning an amateur contest sponsored by a Guadalajara television station in 1954. This led to more performances around town for the young singer, and his confidence began to grow. Unfortunately, his father lost the family’s ranch, and they were forced to relocate to Tijuana, where Vicente found himself working odd jobs to make ends meet. Still, he kept singing, and moved back to Guadalajara to pursue his music full-time. After some more regional success, his next move was to Mexico City, where he spent three frustrating years being turned down for auditions and record deals. He went back to Guadalajara and married his former neighbor and began to build a family, all the while holding onto his dream of being a performer.
In 1966, popular Mexican singer Javier Solis passed away unexpectedly, and within a span of three years, two of Mexico’s other most prominent performers, Jorge Negrete, and Chente’s boyhood idol, Pedro Infante had also passed away. Record companies quickly looked to Vicente to fill the void. Suddenly, CBS Mexico, which is now known as Sony Discos was calling Vicente to sign him to a record deal – even though they had turned him down several times during his stint in Mexico City. He signed anyway, and in 1966 he released “Perdoname,” his first public recording. Chente began acting in 1971, and also composed a hit soundtrack and starred in the hit movie, “La Ley del Monte” in 1974. It was his biggest hit, and one of his most enduring songs, “Volver, Volver” was released in 1976, it was so big that it can still be heard playing from Lowrider speakers to this day. During the next 35 years, Vicente recorded a whopping 50 additional albums, all of which have been certified Gold or Platinum. He has won the Billboard Mexican Regional Male Artist of the Year five times, and has been nominated for a Grammy award as well. With a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and an Arena in Guadalajara named after him, it’s easy to see that Chente is equally adored among his American fan base as well as his Mexican fan base. If you’re new to Vicente, a great place to start would be to pick up the album “Historio De Un Idolo Vol. 2” which contains hits like “Volver, Volver,” “El Rey,” and “Amor Eterno.”
At 71 years of Age, Vicente Fernandez is still performing in arenas like Madison Square Garden, and still wowing fans with his amazing vocal talent and long-running live shows. He has more Billboard certifications that could ever fit on the walls of his home, yet it is not the awards that move him; it is his craft and cultural heritage. This is why he has been so well loved by his fans. In an era where narcissism and greed top most “wanna-be” entertainers’ motives; Vicente is as dedicated to preserving Ranchera music and culture more than ever. He tells his crowd, “Mientras ustedes aplaudan yo les seguire cantando.”If this is true, then it’s safe to say that the Lowrider nation will never stop clapping for the King of Ranchera.