The last mariachi king, Vicente Fernández, dies

“But the day I die, I know you will have to cry; cry and cry ”, sang hundreds of times one of the main musketeers of the rancheras, Vicente Fernández, in the song by the composer José Alfredo Jiménez entitled The king. Today, at 81, the iconic voice of the Mexican mariachi –one of the best of the genre with Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete and Javier Solis– has passed away. For his millions of followers in Latin America, the sad moment came to mourn the king.

Fernández has been under medical care since August. In that month, his family had reported, through the singer’s official Instagram account, that his health was serious due to a fall at his ranch “that caused a spinal cord injury to the cervical spine.” The medical team that operated on him spent the following weeks reporting on social networks about his state of health – dependent on ventilatory support and a feeding tube. After several days of being under observation in a Guadalajara hospital, Fernández was able to return home for a few days. But this Friday one of his children and a doctor told the newspaper Reform that the singer was again hospitalized and in critical condition due to pneumonia. The singer died after a worsening of his lung condition, according to the family.

Chente, as Vicente Fernandez was known, was born in the town of Huentitán El Alto Jalisco in 1940, the son of a rancher and a housewife, and began in the world of music singing in restaurants and weddings in Guadalajara and later Ciudad from Mexico. He appeared first on television, –in The musical calender Y The dawn of Guadalajara– and in the country’s capital he managed to get some of his songs to be played on the radio, until in 1965 the CBS station (today Sony Music) opened its doors to him. Your Way and Mine, Forgive me, his disk King’s word– but his big musical hit came a decade later, the unforgettable spite song that catapulted him to fame in 1972: Return Return.

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In your arms, again.

I’ll get to where you are

I know how to lose, I know how to lose

I want to return, return, return.

Return Return, a love tragedy transformed into a ranchera, was the song that made him the king of its genre in all of Latin America. A search on Spotify and YouTube shows how the greats of music – Chavela Vargas, Concha Buika, Ana Gabriel, among others – made their own versions in the years following the anthem. But no performance is as memorable as the one Vicente did with his son – the famous singer Alejandro Fernández – at a concert several years ago. “I think the day they are burying me, everyone is going to sing it,” he then told the audience about his most beloved song.

Chente sang for more than 50 years, sold millions of copies of his more than one hundred records (almost always produced with Sony Music), and left an extensive work “about crying and sighing, about abandonment and painful memories; his music laughs while the singer laments, “as the New York Times put it in a review.

Many successes followed: Here between us; That it goes beautiful to you; or his famous album By your damn love from 1989; in addition to appearing in dozens of movies and soap operas. He was nominated for 13 Latin Grammys (won 3) in his career, and there is even a star on the Hollywood walk of fame named after him. “We are honored by the visit of this titan of the deepest of our peoples, not only the Mexican people, the peoples of America and the world,” Hugo Chávez said in 2012, when he decorated Chente with the Order of the Liberators Medal in Venezuela. Chente, also known as El Charro de Huentitán, was already the voice of many to the north and south of the continent.

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“Neither Solís, Infante or Negrete had the fortune to face the laws of time. Vicente surpassed them and there is no one to replace him, ”the composer of 25 Chente songs, Martín Urieta, told El PAÍS last year. “His voice is intact at 80 years old and we cannot know if Infante, for example, would continue the same age. This is a great merit of Vicente: he will remain number one. ” Urrieta is one of a group of composers who found the voice they were looking for in Chente, as did Federico Méndez Tejada, Fernando Maldonado (author of Return Return), José Alfredo Jiménez (author of The king), Gerardo Reyes and Jorge Massías. Although famous for so many hits, very few songs were written by Chente. “I have never said that I am a composer,” Vicente Fernandez said in an interview published on his official website. “It is a very difficult job, however, some ideas and inspirations have come to me and when that happens, I run to pick up a pen and write a few sentences.”

Vicente Fernandez said goodbye to the stage on April 16, 2016, at the age of 76, in a spectacular concert at the Azteca stadium with more than 90 thousand spectators. “The day I meet Donald Trump I’m going to spit in his face,” he said on the day of his farewell.

But Chente was far from being an impeccable idol, and alongside his myth there are serious questions. In his later years he was criticized for his closeness to the PRI or for saying that he did not want a liver transplant from someone who was homosexual or a drug addict, despite the fact that it could save his life when he had cancer in 2012. “He could not bear to Juan Gabriel, because he was gay and Chente was a man from another era and had a lot of homophobia ”, the writer Olga Wornat recently told El PAÍS about Chente’s relationship with the other mythical Mexican singer. Wornat just posted The last king with Planeta publishing house, an unauthorized biography that speaks of Vicente Fernández’s macho behavior and the ties of one of his sons (Gerardo Fernández) to the Sinaloa cartel.

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“That Chente knew, he did know. But he turned a blind eye, “says Wornak about his son Gerardo’s criminal relationship. And there is the case of the singer Joan Sebastian, who was close to Vicente Fernández. They visited each other on the ranches and also Alejandro Fernández was like his godson. But he not only had an investigation for drug trafficking, at his ranch parties were held with minors who were kidnapped in Guatemala. I asked myself: “How could Chente not know this?” Maybe he didn’t want to know or didn’t want to look at it, I’m not sure because he just got sick and I didn’t ask him that question and no one ever asked him ”.

“Life is a glass of liquor; and no one enjoys it forever. It ends if you drink it in one go; the same as if you drink it slowly, ”Chente sings in another of his songs. The sweetness of life could be drunk for 81 years by the man who said that he had neither a throne nor a queen, nor anyone who understands him. He left, with many serious questions to answer. But he is still the king.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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