MEXICO CITY — Don Vicente Fernández, known as the “King of Rancheras,” died Sunday at 81 years of age in Guadalajara, Jalisco, México, four months after being hospitalized and diagnosed with Guillen-Barré syndrome, his family announced in a statement.
“We regret to inform you of his death on Sunday, Dec. 12, at 6:15 am. It was an honor and a great pride for him to share his great musical career with everyone and to give everything for his audience. Thank you for continuing to applaud, thank you for continuing to sing”, the family wrote via Fernández’s social media accounts.
Fernández was hospitalized after he suffered a fall at his ranch Los Tres Potrillos just outside of Guadalajara in August, where the singer lived after he retired from the stage but not from the music scene since he continued recording and producing albums.
He remained in the hospital in the intensive care unit undergoing treatment and connected to a ventilator until the family shared the news of his passing.
Prior to his surgery in August, Fernández wrote a message on his Instagram account that moved his fans, but also caused concern.
“Don’t give up on your dreams. Dedicating my life to singing was the best decision I could have made,” the singer wrote, finishing off with “Chente sigue siendo el rey,” an ode to his song that well established him as the “King of Rancheras.”
Many Latin American celebrities, like Lucero, Gloria Estefan and Ricky Martin, have shared messages on social media of his passing, thanking the great artist for his artistic contributions to the music industry.
In México, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador lamented the loss as well: “I convey my condolences to family, friends and millions of admirers of Vicente Fernández, a symbol of the ranchera song of our time, known and recognized in Mexico and abroad.”
Chente recorded more than 100 albums, sold over 70 million copies, starred in 34 films in Mexican cinema and recorded more than 300 songs. He went on to produce great hits like “Volver, Volver,” “Por Tu Maldito Amor,” “Hermoso Cariño” and “El Rey,” a song that very much does justice to his moniker as King of Rancheras.
“As long as you don’t stop clapping, your Chente doesn’t stop singing,” he would tell his fans while he belted out his songs on stage. True to his word, he was known for having concerts that lasted at least 4 hours.
He did just that in 2016 when he said his goodbye to the stage during a free farewell concert in México City at Azteca Stadium. After that, he retired to his home where he never stopped producing music.
Fernández is survived by his wife Cuquita Abarca, his four children Vicente Jr., Gerardo, Alejandro, and Alejandra (his niece, whom he always considered his daughter), nine grandchildren (four children of Vicente Jr. and five of Alejandro) and four great-grandchildren.
The making of a legend
Throughout his career, Chente, as he is lovingly referred to by his fans, distinguished himself by taking Mexican music around the world throwing the longest concerts on the most renowned stages — making a name not only for himself but also for the popular love ballads and ranchera music that characterize México.
Five years after he announced his farewell from the stage, his songs continue to be an inspiration to people in Latin American countries, México and the U.S., shaping cultures and musical tastes as his rancheras cast stories of sorrow, hope, love and especially Mexican pride for all to enjoy.
Vicente Fernández Gómez was born on February 17, 1940, in Huentitán El Alto, Jalisco, the son of Ramón Fernández and Paula Gómez de Fernández. His first contact with music was in his first years of life, when his parents took him to the cinema to see Pedro Infante films. He quickly became a fan and learned Infante’s songs.
At age 6 he told his mother that when he grew up he wanted to be just like Infante, a famous singer — a dream he would very much grow to accomplish. At age 8 he began guitar lessons.
In his biography, produced by Sony Music, he points out that in 1954 at the age of 14, he won an amateur singing contest in Guadalajara, playing at private parties and serenading young women alongside the mariachis of his town. But he combined these jobs with helping his father doing fieldwork and was not able at the time to dedicate himself fully to producing music.
The success that he was having would lead him later to dedicate himself completely to singing and to travel regularly to México City, to the emblematic Plaza Garibaldi where popular restaurants such as “El Amanecer Tapatío” opened their doors to his musical talent.
In 1963, the same year that he lost his mother to a battle with cancer, Chente married his lifelong partner María del Refugio “Cuquita” Abarca Villaseñor. They would go on to have four children: Alejandro, Vicente, Alejandra and Gerardo. His estate in Guadalajara, Los Tres Potrillos, would be named after his love of horses and his three sons — the three foals.
Two years later, in 1965, Fernández decided to try to record with a record company, although without much success since at that time strong figures in ranchera music such as Javier Solís were at the peak of their career success. In 1966, before the death of the great Solís, the record companies began to call on Fernández, who with his great voice was the ideal artist that would help preserve ranchera music.
It would be CBS — now Sony Music — who hired him, recording his first hits: “Tu Camino y El Mío,” “Perdóname” and “Cantina del Barrio”. It would be just the beginning, Fernández began with great success on radio and better sales on records. Albums like “Soy de Abajo”, “Ni en Defensa Propia” and “Palabra de Rey” broke sales records in the genre.
One of Vicente’s greatest successes is undoubtedly “Volver Volver”, a song composed by Fernando Z. Maldonado. The song became an anthem of ranchera music and in 1976 broke all sales records in North and South America, giving Fernández the title of “King of Rancheras.”
Chente received countless honors, especially as his music made its way to the U.S.
He went on to win three Grammys. One in 2010 for Best Regional Mexican Album “Necesito de Ti.” Another in 2015 for the same category. And finally, in 2017, the recording of his final performance on stage in 2016, titled “Un Azteca en el Azteca (En Vivo),” landed him his last Grammy.
From 1989 to 2014, he was awarded eight Latin Grammys, 14 Premios Lo Nuestro awards and a handful of Billboard awards.
With his characteristic charro suit, wide brim hat and impeccable mariachi musicians at his side, he will forever be remembered as one of the greatest interpreters of mariachi in México and the world.