Vicente Fernández, ‘El Rey’ of Mexican Ranchera Music, Is Dead at 81
Vicente Fernández was born on Feb. 17, 1940, in Huentitán El Alto, in the state of Jalisco in western central Mexico. His father, Ramón Fernández, was a rancher and his mother, Paula Gómez de Fernández, stayed at home to raise their son.
He grew up watching matinee movies featuring the Mexican ranchera singer Pedro Infante, an early influence. When he was 8, he received his first guitar and began studying folk music. He left school in the fifth grade and later moved with his family to Tijuana after their cattle business collapsed. He told The Los Angeles Times in 1999 that he took whatever work he could, laying bricks and shining shoes, and even washing dishes.
“I’ve always said I got to where I am not by being a great singer, but by being stubborn, by being tenacious, by being pigheaded,” Mr. Fernández said.
He gravitated to a public square in Guadalajara called Mariachi Plaza, where he performed for tips, he told The Los Angeles Times. His career took off after he won a competition called La Calandria Musical when he was 19, he said in a 2010 interview with KENS 5 of San Antonio. He moved to Mexico City where he sang at a restaurant and at weddings, and unsuccessfully pitched himself to local record labels.
The labels came calling soon after the death in 1966 of Javier Solís, one of the most popular Mexican singers who specialized in bolero and ranchera music. Mr. Fernández then recorded his first albums, including hits like “Volver, Volver,” which elevated him to a level of fame that he had never envisioned, he told KENS 5. Other hits, including “El Rey” and “Lástima que seas ajena,” would follow.
“When I started my career, I always had the confidence that I would one day make it, but I never imagined that I would reach the heights at which the public has placed me,” Mr. Fernández said.