The 20 Greatest Ranchera Singers of All Time: The Complete List

Categories: Español Music
jose_alfredo_jimenez.jpg
José Alfredo Jiménez: The King of Ranchera, but Not #1!

See Also:
*The 20 Greatest Songs of Vicente Fernández: The Complete List
Trying to explain what música ranchera is to non-Mexicans reminds me of the apocryphal quote attributed to--take your pick--Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington, when someone asked what jazz is. Ranchera isn't so much a genre as it is a sentido--a way of life, of viewing the world in all its melancholy, grandiose beauty.

It's no surprise, then, that ranchera is considered the quintessential Mexican music genre in a land with a dizzying variety of music. Ranchera embodies everything that Mexicans think of themselves when at their best--macho, romantic, backed by mariachi, dressed in splendid outfits, and stubbornly stuck in a myth of a bucolic Mexico that never truly existed. There is no corollary for it in American song--it ain't country music, it ain't Tin Pan Alley, it ain't even Western swing. It's ranchera, damnit, and here's a listicle for ustedes who don't habla to learn of the titans and for wabs to debate forever.

Criteria for this list: not just vocal ability, but whether you wrote your own songs, whether you were a pioneer or followed in the footsteps of titans, and my own biases (which will become apparent soon). One procedural note: I limited this list to artists who primarily sang rancheras throughout their career. I didn't include people who excelled at the genre, like Juan Gabriel, because I'm saving them for another list. Go ahead and hate--this is my list haha.

And now...música, maestro!

20. Tito Guizar


Guizar essentially created the ranchera genre, both in music and film, with his 1936 effort Allá en el Rancho Grande. This film set the template for all future ranchera singers: pastoral themes, elongated notes, dashing looks, lightning-quick changes between baritone and falsettos and the charro costume that's now so iconic that even hipsters like Mariachi the Bronx use it. Guizar actually had a diverse musical career, but Mexicans will always associate him with "Allá en el Rancho Grande," if only because he was able to sneak in the word calzones ("underwear" in habla), thereby making generations of Mexis giggle.

19. Alejandro Fernández


The son of ranchera icon Vicente Fernández (who'll be in part dos of this list), Alejandro represents a dying breed: the ranchera singer. Because while the genre is still beloved in Mexico, few singers nowadays devote themselves to the craft; in Alejandro's case, it's his heritage, so he's never delved into other genres or collaborations that cheapen the genre. Put this low on the list only because he's a young pup compared to the other legends here, Fernández took the best of his father's voice but with half of the bragadoccio, all of the machismo, and a bigger helping of the wussiness, making him this generation's ultimate chonis collector.

18. Amalia Mendoza


With a voice smokier than a smudge pot, Mendoza made her mark singing the songs of Mexico's greatest composers--José Alfredo Jiménez, Cuco Sánchez, Chucho Monge, and others. I personally find her crying vocals a bit overwrought, but she was one of the three great female Mexican singers in the ranchera genre along with...well, you'll meet them soon enough.

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21 comments
TheRefriedMexican
TheRefriedMexican

Vicente Fernandez number 9. That's laughable at best. I notice when you do your lists. You always throw in one curveball. It's obvious you only do it to spark debate. Come on Gus, not even you believe Chente is #9. This list is titled "Greatest Ranchera Singers of All Time", not "Greatest Ranchera Writers of All Time" que no? Recognize Chente is El Rey de la Ranchera gueyes!

HMont
HMont

Fun list, and I agree with most of the choices here, though I'd juggle things around a little bit. (Oh yeah, and I'd put Chente in the #1 slot, with Jose Alfredo and Javier for 2 and 3)


Gerardo Reyes and Felipe Arriaga both need to be on here, and I'd think about adding Luis Aguilar, Gilberto Valenzuela and Emilio Galvan. (Galvan mentored Javier Solis in the early 50s before he got his record contract...) I would be totally okay dropping some of these to make room for them: Pepe Aguilar, Alejandro Hernandez, Rocio Durcal, Chavela Vargas.

Araceli Ojeda-Cortez
Araceli Ojeda-Cortez

Y ellos/ellas son my bonito recuerdos de Padre ! When I was a little we would often go to El Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.... and had the privilege to see Jose Alfredo Jimenez y Lola Beltran sing ! Just to name a few...... and I remember how sad mi Padre was when Jose Alfredo Jimenez. Lola Beltran y Javier Solis passed away to much better life......

Araceli Ojeda-Cortez
Araceli Ojeda-Cortez

José José Alfredo Jiménez, Fans de pedro infante, Lola Beltran to name a few... que Si son cantantes de verdad no como la vavosa de Selena who didn't even speak spanish....only sang to words that her father taught her.....

TheRefriedMexican
TheRefriedMexican

3) Javier Solis 2) Vicente Fernandez 1) Jose Alfredo Jimenez.

Jesus Olvera
Jesus Olvera

There's at least 5 way better choices than Chavela Vargas. Just of the top of my head we have, La Prieta Linda, Flor Silvestre, Maria De Lourdes, La Consentida, La Torcacita, Chayito Valdez and the most underrated of all: Estela Nuñez who was Lucerito before Lucerito (and by that I mean transitioning from baladas to rancheras... but better) Obviously one of the best Juanga interpreters.

Jeff Charreaux
Jeff Charreaux

Why doesn't anyone do a half-hearted electronic ranchera band? It would be infinitely superior to Depeche Mode!

Ask a Mexican
Ask a Mexican

Don't dwell on the "singer" part too much; you're thinking of "vocalist"!

jzur84
jzur84

totally agree! Chente is over rated.

Jesus A. Figueroa
Jesus A. Figueroa

There is no way, I repeat NO WAY, that Antonio Aguilar comes before Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete and Vicente Fernandez (especially in 9th??). You are living in Dream World señor.

Joe Becerra
Joe Becerra

A great list! I might switch a couple around but every one listed were fantastic! I remember Sunday afternoons when my Dad would play "his Mexican music" How I grew to appreciate our music and now how much I miss those wonderful Sunday afternoons with my Dad. Thank you for posting this list.

Changoleon Trotski
Changoleon Trotski

Even when i like a lot javier solís..jose alfredo is the best to me. Gema is one of the most popular Solis songs, but play "Serrana" (great song). Few songs like "el aguacero" with miguel aceves mejia make feel how was every day life in "el rancho"

Ernestina Sanchez
Ernestina Sanchez

I agree with Diana on Jose Alfredo. He was a master song writer! Makes me miss my dad in San Antonio. :-(

Diana Pineda
Diana Pineda

Can't argue that Jose Alfredo Jimenez was the finest, most amazing composer. The passion and the pain in his voice was truly heartfelt, but your list is greatest ranchera singers. Pedro Infante isn't #1 or #2. I don't know of any other singer that would make women (and men) pee their pants quite like Pedro Infante. Guess can't make us cabrones(as) all happy. It's all good though.

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