“El Rey” (the king) of ranchera music Vicente Fernández died on Sunday at age 81. Nicknamed “Chente,” Fernández was known for his songs about longing, love, loss, and heartbreak. He recorded more than 50 albums during his decades-long career, and was well-known to generations of Latinos and Latino Americans.
Much of Fernández’s success can be attributed to increased migration to the U.S., says Adrian Felix, associate professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside.
“Vicente Fernández was part of this generation of iconic ranchera singers to come out of the mid-20th century and later 20th century Mexico. And I think what makes Vicente all the more remarkable is, even when compared to some of his peers, that he crossed all sorts of borders, borders of generations,” Felix explains. “And his fame reached well into the U.S. [and] the millions of migrants in the U.S. As migration picked up throughout the course of his career, his following only grew on both sides of the border.”
Much of Fernández’s music spoke explicitly about the migrant experience and the attachment to communities of origin and the rural landscapes that many leave behind.
He adds, “His music is part of the soundtrack of the Mexican migrant diaspora. … For those reasons, these recurrent threads of nostalgia of melancholia, which are are part and parcel of the immigrant experience, I think that's why it resonated with not only immigrants themselves, but also the children of immigrants who grew up hearing that music in their households via their parents and their elders.”