Legend has it that the day his father died, a young, unknown Vicente Fernandez performed in Mexico. Over the course of the performance, Fernandez' emotions so overtook him that he began sobbing in mid-song. The crowd roared at the end of the show and called him back for an encore, at which point the MC told them about Fernandez' personal tragedy.
The story is emblematic of Fernandez' career for two reasons. Over a career that's lasted more than four decades, the man known as "King of Ranchera" has become associated with grand expressions of emotion and an ability to wring every last aural tear out of classic mariachi warhorses. He's also shown a determination to stubbornly keep pushing, regardless of the obstacles.
Raised in Jalisco, Mexico, Fernandez worked as a shoeshine boy, waiter, and dishwasher before earning national attention with an appearance on the Mexican television show, La Calandria Musical. While the popularity of mariachi music has dipped over the years in Mexico, Fernandez
The man who once set a national attendance record by drawing 54,000 to La Plaza de Mexico, hit No. 2 on Billboard's Latin 50 chart in 2001 (at the age of 61) with his collection, Historias de un Indola. As proof of his enduring stature with Latino record buyers, his tour-sponsorship agreement with Jack Daniel's has been cited by the whiskey maker as a prime reason for its 40 percent increase in sales among California Latinos this year. Pop stars come and go (including Fernandez's son, Alejandro), but only legends can move that much booze. •