by: María R. González
Latinos in the United States have embraced Vicente Fernández’s music throughout the past 40 years, making him an anchor that has helped us maintain our roots in place. If you are Latino, you know Vicente Fernández. His place in Latino culture in this country is undisputed and his popularity is unrivaled here and throughout Latin America. Music industry experts and entertainment gurus use facts and figures to explain the cultural phenomenon that is “El Charro de Huentitán,” the man who began his career singing for tips in the streets of Guadalajara. They explain with certainty how he has earned his reign as “El Rey de la Música Ranchera” but pinpointing why remains a challenge.
Let’s start with the how. The facts that justify his success and popularity exist. Vicente has sold approximately 70 million albums and recorded over 100 albums throughout his career. He garnered two Grammys, eight Latin Grammys, 14 Premios Lo Nuestro and several Billboard awards, and he was also inducted into the Billboard Hall of Fame. The man has been a hit-maker since the anthem “Volver, Volver” went the equivalent of “viral” in the 1970s. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a street stretch in Chicago’s Mexican neighborhood “La Villita” is named after him. Countless articles praise Vicente’s parade of hits in the number one seat on the Billboard charts. He has sold-out concerts in Madison Square Garden and la Plaza de Toros Mexico, to name a few high-profile venues.
Then there’s his voice: operatic, powerful and sensitive all at once. He doesn’t merely sing the songs, he lives them. He is a storyteller and each song confides his woes, his happiness, his downfalls and triumphs in love and in life. Saying that he is a great singer is simply not enough. After all, many consider him “El Cuarto Gallo,” an honor that positions him as the fourth best singer in Mexico, only after legends Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete and Javier Solis. His talent is measured constantly with awards, platinum records, and rave reviews by artist colleagues. But Vicente represents something else that the figures, awards, honors and headlines can’t capture and that perhaps explains why Latinos simply adore him. And this is when we must look at why he is beloved.
Vicente Fernández is family. He’s the brother who offers you a shoulder — and a shot of tequila — to cry on during those moments in life when a heartbreak is inevitable in “¿De qué manera te olvido?” or “Acá Entre Nos.” He’s the sentimental, endearing father who can’t hide his own heartbreak when facing the man who has stolen his daughter’s heart in “¿Y Cómo es Él?” He’s the son who supplicates God to stop time as he contemplates his father, his querido viejo’s, mortality in “Ese Señor de las Canas.” He’s the loving husband who croons “Hermoso Cariño” and the classic “Gema” like no one else can. He’s the friend who will sing “El Rey” a todo pulmón with you when you’re feeling like el mero mero. Perhaps above all, he’s a voice that inspires millions of Latinos in the United States to work hard and persevere and never lose sight of one’s pride and dignity.
Vicente es de la familia. This is his real crown, the love of family that Latinos have given him throughout the years. For 40 years of this mutual, hermoso cariño, we have only two words to say to the man who made us all cry, laugh and overcome: Gracias, Chente.