In the field of ranchera music, Mexico has produced many outstanding female vocalists: Lucha Villa, Amalia Mendoza, Lucha Reyes, and of course, Lola Beltrán. But only one has earned the title of “La Gran Señora de México” — Yolanda Del Río.
After launching her vocal career as a child, Del Río recorded her first album at age 15. Like many of her idols, she embraced the ranchera style, born in the 19th century and now regarded as the quintessential Mexican song form. Popularized by three artists known as “Mexico’s holy trinity,” Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete and Javier Solis, ranchera music continues to exert a strong influence through performers such as Vicente Fernández, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitán and Juan Gabriel.
Del Río, who scored her first big hit in 1972 with the single La Hija de Nadie (Nobody’s Daughter), has long-standing ties to ranchera’s greats. Accompanied by Mariachi Oro y Plata, Del Río will open for Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitán in an SCP Special Concert on Oct. 2. She also claims Juan Gabriel, who died suddenly at age 66 on Aug. 28, as a close friend and mentor. In an email interview, “The Great Lady of Mexico” spoke about her influences and her special bond with “El Divo de Juárez.”
If you could sing with any ranchera artist from the past, who would it be?
I admire several artists from the past, but if I had to choose one, it would be Pedro Infante.
You have been a performer since childhood; what’s your secret to such long success?
Some people are blessed and born with their own talent; it is a matter of feeding the desire to be better every day and to be grateful for every fan who likes you.
Who would you single out as your earliest influences?
I was still a very young child when I would hear Lola Beltrán and Lucha Villa on different radio stations and wished I someday I would be able to hear my own music on the numerous radios around the country and beyond.
What was it like to work and perform with Juan Gabriel?
I actually never worked with Juan Gabriel in the studio but I feel very fortunate to have been invited to sing with him in some of his concerts “Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez” (“I Forgot Again”). It’s a song he used to say was my hit song, even though he wrote and recorded himself. I feel even more fortunate to have been a personal friend since the start of our early years until the day he passed away
What’s your favorite song of his?
There are so many songs I love by Juan Gabriel, but my favorite no doubt would have to be “Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez.”
As a composer, vocalist, actor, producer, mentor and philanthropist, Juan Gabriel had many talents and personas. How do you think he would he like to be remembered?
I am pretty sure he would like to be remembered like the sweet, humble person he was on and off the stage. A beautiful person all around and in and out, he was a great friend!
You were one of the first — if not the first — female ranchera singers to stand up for women in a male-dominated field. How did you come to develop this point of view?
I guess it all started with my first big hit song “La Hija de Nadie.” It’s a song that touches a lot of women’s hearts since the song speaks of the many men who leave pregnant women to fend for themselves, not caring or bothering ever to look back and care for their children left behind.
What’s your all-time favorite song to perform in concert?
I would have to say “La Hija de Nadie.”
Ranchera music has its roots in the 19th century, but unlike other folk-based genres, it seems more popular and current than ever. Why?
I think our music has always been and will be very popular. Styles come and go, but mariachi music will always live in the heart of every Mexican.