Remembering a worldwide treasure: Inside the history of Mexican icon Vicente Fernandez

He had generations of fans, including many here in Houston

FILE - Vicente Fernandez performs at a free concert during Valentine's Day in Mexico City's on Feb. 14, 2009, file photo, singer. On Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2016. The Mexican singer died Sunday at 81 years of age in Guadalajara, Mexico, his family announced in a statement. (AP Photo/Claudio Cruz, File) (Claudio Cruz, Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – Vicente Fernandez was a cultural icon throughout generations.

From romantic “rancheras” to timeless classics that would make you want to sing your soul out, he became a giant whose powerful singing voice made him the “king” of Mexico, described as the “Frank Sinatra of Mexico.”

Fernandez died at the age of 81 on Sunday morning. His health declined for months after a fall he suffered in August that placed him in the ICU on a ventilator. Fans held vigils at the time of his fall.

RELATED: Legendary Mexican performer Vicente Fernandez dies at 81, family confirms

His death became synonymous with the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a holiday celebrating a popular religious devotion and a national symbol in the country.

FILE - Mexico's "King of Ranchero" Vicente Fernandez, left, is embraced by his son Alejandro during a tribute gala honoring him as the 2002 Latin Recording Academy person of the year in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2002. Vicente Fernandez, the beloved Mexican singer who was awarded three Grammys and nine Latin Grammys and inspired a new generation of performers, including his son Alejandro Fernndez Jr. has died. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File) (AP2002)

An everlasting career

Born in a rural area of Jalisco, Mexico, in 1940, both of Fernandez’s parents were cattle farmers, the Los Angeles Times reported. When he moved to Tijuana as a teenager, he would take on some of the hardest jobs: he laid bricks, washed dishes, and shined shoes.

Fernandez never took singing courses or practiced singing at all. He joined several Mariachi groups before singing at bars and restaurants. Eventually, in 1969, he would sign a record deal and never looked back.

He went on to earn 11 Grammys, including three Latin Grammys, earned a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998, participated in more than 30 movies in Mexican cinema, and sold over 65 million albums.

His son, Alejandro Fernandez, went on to become a Latin Grammy award-winning singer himself, following his father’s footsteps. His most recent album, “Hecho in Mexico (Made in Mexico)” was briefly delayed because he wanted to record a song with his father before releasing it, according to an interview with Billboard.

Fernandez retired from the stages in 2016, citing his age, but he still published several albums afterward, including his latest one, “A Mis 80s (In My 80s).”

You can listen to his classics on Spotify here.

FILE- In this file photo of Saturday, April 16, 2016, the Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez performs at a free concert at Azteca Stadium. Fernndez, the regional Mexican music star whose powerful voice immortalized songs like "El rey", "Volver, Volver" and "Pity that you are alien" while inspiring new generations of performers like his son Alejandro Fernndez Jr., He died early Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, relatives reported. He was 81 years old. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

International popularity, including Houston

In an article from Los Angeles Times, it’s mentioned that Fernandez’s music made headway through the U.S./Mexico border beginning in the 1970s, and eventually worldwide, making him an icon for Mexican immigrants.

His music became a must-play in Hispanic households, including late-night parties, gatherings, karaoke nights, and even daily chores. Every Latin grandparent or parent had several of his albums on repeat. Tequila shots were a must.

Fernandez was no stranger to Houston, either. In fact, it was all thanks to Guillermo “Memo” Villarreal, owner of Memo’s Record Shop at the East End area who also worked as a concert promoter responsible for bringing Fernandez to Houston, performing in venues such as the Toyota Center several times.

RELATED: Voices of Houston: Memo’s Record Shop in East End celebrates Latin music for more than 50 years

Fans of the Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez meet around a statue of him at Pepe Guizar square or "Plaza de los Mariachis" in Guadalajara, Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Fernandez, a beloved Mexican singer who was awarded three Grammys and nine Latin Grammys and inspired a new generation of performers, including his son Alejandro Fernndez Jr. has died. (AP Photo/Refugio Ruiz) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

‘He will be remembered for generations to come’

The world is heartbroken by Fernandez’s death.

Large crowds gathered at Jalisco’s Mariachi Plaza where a statue of Fernandez was located, near bars and restaurants where he once sang, where fans paid respects and sang his famous songs. The bronze statue was brought by the government of Jalisco to honor Fernandez’s career.

Fernández was such an icon that Spanish-language network Telemundo interrupted its live broadcast of Mexico’s Virgin of Guadalupe celebrations to announce his death, according to NBC News.

Mientras usted no deje de aplaudir, su ‘Chente’ no deja de cantar” became a legendary saying that stood with fans and celebrities. It translates to “While you don’t stop applauding, your ‘Chente’ (his nickname) won’t stop singing.”

RELATED: See the social media reaction to Vicente Fernandez’s death: Political figures, celebrities share outpouring of love for singing icon


About the Author:

A graduate of the University of Houston-Downtown, Ana moved to H-Town from sunny southern California in 2015. In 2020, she joined the KPRC 2 digital team as an intern. Ana is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur, a catmom of 2, and an aquarium enthusiast. In her spare time, she's an avid video gamer and loves to travel.