Born in Huentitan el Alto, Jalisco, Mexico, Fernandez spent the early years of his life on his father Ramon's ranch on the outskirts of Guadalajara. As a little boy Vicente also worked at a young age, he worked for his uncle as a waiter, dish washer, cashier, and finally the manager of his uncles restaurant. He was known to all the people as "Chente". Here the idyllic ranchera lifestyle was instilled in him. His mother often took him to see the films of Pedro Infante. Fernandez told Leila Cobo of Billboard the significance of these films: "When I was 6 or 7, I would go see Pedro Infante's movies, and I would tell my mother, 'When I grow up, I'll be like them.'" By age eight he had taken up the guitar and was practicing his singing in the style of the ranchera singers he heard on the radio.
As a boy he sang at a festival in Arandas, Mexico where he was terribly booed. Later in his life at the age of twenty-one he competed in a contest where he won thirty-one pesos. But In 1954, Fernandez won an amateur contest sponsored by a Guadalajara television station. It was his first break into performing and he began to play at local clubs and gatherings. Around this time, however, Fernandez's father lost the ranch and the family moved into the city of Tijuana. Fernandez, who had dropped out of school in the fifth grade, began working odd jobs in the city such as janitor, dishwasher, waiter – whatever he could find. All the while, he still held to his musical aspirations.
In 1960 Fernandez devoted himself to music full time. He went back to Guadalajara, where he performed as a busker while also appearing occasionally on the television show La Calandria musical. After a couple of years Fernandez tried his luck in Mexico City, where he found a job singing in a restaurant called El Amanacer Tapatio. When he wasn't working he was auditioning for recording companies, and constantly being turned down.
The time Fernandez spent in Mexico City was discouraging. By 1963 he left to marry a former neighbor, Maria "Cuca" de Refugio Abarca Villasenor. They now have four children, the oldest of which, Vicente, Jr., was born three months premature in 1963; Fernandez's mother died within a week of Vicente, Jr.'s, birth.
In 1966 tragedy created an opportunity for Fernandez. In the spring of that year, Javier Solis, Mexico's most popular traditional singer, died. To fill the gap the record companies called on Fernandez. CBS Mexico, now Sony Discos, which had originally spurned Fernandez, now offered him a recording contract. He released his first recording, "Perdoname," with the company in 1966; Fernandez still records for Sony Discos.
Fernandez's career took off at that point and has been nonstop ever since. He branched into acting with the film Uno y medio contra el mundo, released in 1971. His first hit movie, for which he did the soundtrack, was La ley del monte, released in 1974. In the span of 20 years Fernandez has acted, sung, and worked behind the scenes on more than 40 films. He stopped acting in 1991, feeling that he was too old to maintain the proper image for his movies.
Fernandez works hard for his audiences and his performances are legendary. His adoring fans consistently pack the house, whatever the venue, from city squares to large arenas in the United States. He promises each audience that he'll sing until they are tired, making his concerts last from two and a half to four hours. Maintaining the ranchera tradition, Fernandez always performs wearing the charro, an embroidered suit and sombrero. He explained to Matt Weitz of the Dallas Morning News, "[T]o me it's [the charro] Mexico's second flag. When I put it on, I become an ambassador."
His pride in tradition and dedication to his fans has led to him to perform when many other artists would have canceled. He still reminds his people and fans with his famous phrase "Mientras ustedes aplaudan yo les seguire cantando" ("As long as you keep applauding, I'll keep singing."). His father died in 1970, just as Fernandez was about to go onstage. Overwhelmed by the tragic news but determined not to let the crowd go without a show, Fernandez went onstage and performed. By the end of the night the critics were comparing him to other famous ranchero artists like Jose Alferdo Jimenez, Jorge Negrete, and Javier Solis. Since that moment his music has expanded very rapidly. In 1998 Fernandez continued to tour despite the kidnapping of his oldest son. (He was released four months later when ransom was paid.)
Fernandez has recorded more than 50 albums in 35 years and claims to have 300 more songs recorded, making another 30 albums possible even if he retires. When he records an album he spends 12–13 hours in the studio recording up to 18 songs. He takes a day off and then returns for another marathon session, recording another 15 or more songs. From those recordings, he and his producer choose 12. Fernandez's greatest hit was "Volver, volver," released in 1976; his first million-selling album was 1983's 15 Grandes con el numero uno. In 1987 he launched his first tour outside the United States and Mexico when he traveled to Bolivia and Colombia.
By the end of the 1980s Fernández had been famous for more than 21 years, yet he had never earned a major award and was beginning to think he would have to die before he was recognized. His patience was rewarded in 1990 when he released the album Vicente Fernandez y las clasicas de Jose Alfredo Jimenez, a tribute to Mexico's most famous songwriter, Jose Alfredo Jimenez. The album earned him Billboard and Univision's Latin Music Award for Mexican Regional Male Artist of the Year, which he won five times from 1989 to 1993.
In 2002 Fernandez was recognized by the Latin Recording Academy as Person of the Year. The same year he celebrated his thirty-fifth anniversary in the entertainment industry, a career in which he has sold more than 50 million records. He has 51 albums listed on the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) registry for gold, platinum, and multiplatinum selling records. With 35 years of experience under his belt, Fernandez has helped maintain a Mexican tradition that may very well pass away when he does. For someone who was told he'd be better off selling peanuts than singing professionally, Fernandez has made a tremendous impact on the music of his homeland. He also has a star placed with his name at the walk of fame in Hollywood, California. Over five thousand people attended the ceremony when he got his star, which is a record in itself.