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 both in Mexico and the U.S. routinely sell out despite a near-total dearth of non-Latino media coverage, and his 100-plus albums have reportedly sold in excess of 50 million copies. Fernández has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has been nominated for Grammy Awards, and has 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, and eye-popping costumes, and an orchestra overpopulated with horns and strings 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, which relates 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 among other Spanish-speaking populations, including the millions of Mexican-Americans in the United States. Many Mexican music groups covered the song when they performed 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. ~ Jeff Tamarkin, Rovi