Vicente Fernández has died at 81 The singer had been in critical condition recently after being hospitalized due to a fall at his Guadalajara ranch in August, and being diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome afterwards.

Vicente 'Chente' Fernández, 'El Rey' of ranchera music, has died at 81

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1063497595/1063547413" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Mexican superstar Vicente Fernandez has died at the age of 81. The singer was one of the country's most important cultural icons. There's no style of song more synonymous with Mexican identity than the rancheras that Fernandez mastered so beautifully that they called him the king of the ranchera.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VOLVER, VOLVER")

VICENTE FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: In "Volver, Volver," the 1972 song that skyrocketed his career, Fernandez sang about his unbearable longing to return to an ex-lover's arms.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VOLVER, VOLVER")

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: In a country where suffering for love is considered almost virtuous, that song became an anthem. And Fernandez became Mexico's biggest star, adored for his velvet voice and his devotion to songs about rural tradition, about courtship and honor, cockfights and rodeos, passion and heartbreak.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL JALISCIENSE")

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: At concerts, he wore the elegantly embroidered costume of the charro - a chivalrous cowboy, pistol on his hip, thick black mustache, his head crowned with a wide sombrero.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL JALISCIENSE")

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: His shows went on for hours. Then he'd take a swig of tequila and sing some more.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL JALISCIENSE")

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

LEILA COBO: He would sing as long as people wanted him to sing.

FLORIDO: Leila Cobo is with Billboard magazine.

COBO: And I think this commitment to his fans just had a huge impact. And also, he was such a symbol of Mexico, everything he did - you know, the hats, the outfits, his ranch.

FLORIDO: He was also the quintessential symbol of the Mexican macho. In "No Me Se Rajar," he sang about being a man who couldn't back down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ME SE RAJAR")

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: Fernandez was a culturally conservative man, a product of his traditional upbringing. And though he was occasionally criticized for homophobic or sexist comments, he was nonetheless almost universally beloved. The stoicism that Mexican society often expects of its men, he dispensed with it. In "Por Tu Maldito Amor," as in many of his songs, you can hear him gasping in anguish over a broken heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POR TU MALDITO AMOR")

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: Here's Leila Cobo again.

COBO: He would sing these songs with so much pathos and so much emotion. And grown men would cry. And he would cry. Perhaps because he was such a macho man, you know, he could cry. And I think that made him all the more iconic and legendary.

FLORIDO: Fernandez was born in the central Mexican state of Jalisco. As a boy, his family moved to the border city of Tijuana, where he worked construction. He started singing at bars and restaurants as a teenager. And over his six-decade career, he recorded dozens of albums and sold millions of copies, and he remained popular with each new generation. Jose Anguiano is a professor in popular music at Cal State Los Angeles.

JOSE ANGUIANO: He was singing not just to us, but to our uncles, our parents and our grandmothers as well. So there's this kind of immense sense of loss for what he means to the culture.

FLORIDO: In a statement, Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, called Fernandez a symbol of our time who was beloved by millions in Mexico and around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL HIJO DEL PUEBLO")

FERNANDEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.