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'He influenced everything': Austin musicians react to Vicente Fernández's death

Earl Hopkins
Austin 360

Vicente Fernández endeared himself to generations of fans with his enchanting voice and songs of love, loss and life in rural Mexico. He made his name across the border, but the legend's death on Sunday saddened admirers across Texas, including in the Austin music community. 

"Fernández was 'El Rey de Canción de Mariachi,'" said singer-songwriter Patricia Vonne, 51, a San Antonio native and fixture on the Austin music scene. 

"He was the voice of Mexico that will never be forgotten," she added. "He was Elvis, Sinatra and Tony Bennett rolled into one. He will be sorely missed."

Fernández was called the "King of Rancheras." Before he died at 81, Chente, as he was known to fans, recorded more than 100 albums, sold over 70 million copies, starred in 34 films in Mexican cinema and recorded more than 300 songs. Those songs, like "Por Tu Maldito Amor" and "Volver, Volver," made him royalty in the Latin music world. 

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Vicente Fernández performs at a free concert at Azteca Stadium in 2016. Fernández, the regional Mexican music star whose powerful voice immortalized songs like "El Rey" and "Volver, Volver," died Dec. 12.

He died in Guadalajara in his native state of Jalisco, four months after being hospitalized and diagnosed with Guillen-Barré syndrome, according to a family statement. News of the singer's death was announced in a post on his official Instagram account.

"Fue un honor y un gran orgullo compartir con todos una gran trayectoria de música y darlo todo por su público. Gracias por seguir aplaudiendo, gracias por seguir cantando,“ the caption read. (Translated from Spanish to English: "It was an honor and a great pride to share with everyone a great musical career and to give everything for his audience. Thank you for continuing to applaud, thank you for continuing to sing.")

With his signature charro outfit and embroidered sombrero, Fernández brought ranchera music to the international stage. 

Having grown up listening to songs like "El Rey" at family cookouts, weddings and quinceañeras, Austin musician Stephanie Bergara said the loss of Fernández is devastating, especially for those who grew up in and around mariachi culture. 

The Selena tribute band Bidi Bidi Banda posted a picture of the "Queen of Tejano" and legendary artist Vicente Fernández following his death on Sunday.

"He influenced everything," said Bergara, a 35-year-old local performer who also fronts the Selena tribute band Bidi Bidi Banda"Everyone and everything about Mexican culture can be traced back to (him)."

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On the day Fernández died, Bidi Bidi Banda posted a picture of him and Selena to their social media accounts, with the image highlighting the impact the two beloved  musicians shared, Bergara said. 

"I think they're having an epic concert up in heaven — drinking tequila and singing for everybody up there," she said. 

Although he grew up outside the mariachi culture, Bradley Jaye Williams, 60, of Austin band Conjunto Los Pinkys said Fernández transcended musical and cultural borders. 

"The songs are really what it's all about," the Saginaw, Michigan, native said. "His music is a part of the fabric of all Mexican music, but also a part of a lot of people's lives in Mexico and the world at this point. It's a worldwide thing."

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Another iconic king of pop culture, George Strait, offered words of praise for Fernández.

"Sad news today. We lost (the) amazing legendary Vicente Fernández this morning," country music legend Strait tweeted on Sunday. "One of my heroes. May he Rest In Peace and may God bless and comfort his family. Hasta la Cruz Chente!!"

While Fernández has died, his voice and legacy will remain present, said Beto Martinez, co-founder of the Austin-based, Grammy-winning, Latin-funk band Grupo Fantasma.

"We sang his songs on birthdays, at funerals, weddings and big celebrations. The music will forever be associated with those (magnificent) events, whether happy or sad," Martinez, 44, said. "That legacy will never die down.

"He's an icon and a titan."

Diana Garcia of La Voz contributed to this story.