His iconic voice has filled stadiums across Latin America and the U.S. This week millions mourn Vicente Fernández, known also as “Chente.” He died Sunday at age 81. The Mexican ranchera singer known for his musical bravado and ballads is a staple in households throughout the Americas, and especially here in Texas. Chente’s life and influence on Latino culture is one of a kind, says Professor John A. Lopez, co-coordinator of Latin Music Studies at Texas State University.
With a career spanning about 60 years, Fernández leaves behind emotional ballads and powerful gritos. Lopez says no one could translate the emotion of a song like he could.
Listen to the interview above or read a partial transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Who was Vicente Fernandez to you and to Texas? How would you describe him?
John A. Lopez: I was born in 1965. Growing up in the 70s and the 80s in my household. he was the voice of Mexico, voice of mariachi, the voice of the people, really. His songs, his voice, his interpretation really just touched a nerve with everyone that listened to him. And then he will be the standard. All singers in some way, ranchera singers – that’s a specific thing – there’s an emotional tie to the lyrics of the rancher, and they’re able to transcend what they’re saying into an emotional impact that really drives the message home in a unique way that not everybody can do. Lots of people can sing the song. But being able to translate the emotion of the song in a physical, romantic way is very unique, and he was a master at that for two melodies.
Texas Standard: When we’re talking ranchera, what are the distinguishing features of that genre, and maybe you could mention some, some examples of some of his more iconic songs.
There’s a little bit of a misnomer in thinking that rancheras are mariachi music. Technically rancheras are their own style. Lots of different groups play rancheras. Like a conjunto plays rancheras, mariachis play rancheras, Rancheras are basically the country music of mariachi. And they have a much more emotional down to earth relationship impact than other mariachi styles.