José Montserrate Feliciano García (born September 10, 1945), better known simply as José Feliciano xoˈse feliˈsjano, is a Puerto Rican virtuoso guitarist, singer, and composer known for many international hits, including his rendition of The Doors' "Light My Fire" and the best-selling Christmas single, "Feliz Navidad". His music is known for having a mix of styles, for example including both Flamenco music and mellow easy listening influences in many songs.
In the US, he received widespread popularity in the 1960s, particularly after his 1968 album, Feliciano!, came out and was a No. 2 hit. He has released many albums over the years in both English and Spanish.
Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, on September 10, 1945. Left permanently blind at birth as a result of congenital glaucoma, he was first exposed to music at the age of three; he would play on a tin cracker can while accompanying his uncle, who played the cuatro. When Feliciano was five, his family moved to Spanish Harlem, New York City, and at nine he played the Teatro Puerto Rico in The Bronx.
Feliciano started his musical life playing the accordion until his father gave him, in a brown paper bag, his first guitar. He would play his guitar by himself in his room for up to 14 hours a day, and would listen to 1950s rock'n'roll, records of classical guitarists and jazz players. Andrés Segovia and Wes Montgomery were among his favorites. Feliciano later had classical lessons with Harold Morris, who had been a student of Segovia. In a 1969 interview, he also mentioned soul music in general, and Ray Charles in particular, as influences on his singing.
At 17, he quit school to play in clubs. He had his first professional, contracted performance in Detroit.
In 1963, after some live performances in pubs and clubs around the USA and Canada, especially in Greenwich Village, New York, and Vancouver, BC, where he played at the same time as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, he was signed by Jack Somer, an executive at RCA Victor. In 1964, he released his first single, "Everybody Do the Click" (which became a hit in the Philippines, at #2, staying 14 weeks in the TopTen Hit parade) and he was invited to the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. In 1965 and 1966, he released his first albums: The Voice and Guitar of Jose Feliciano and A Bag Full of Soul, two folk-pop-soul albums that showcased his talent on radios across the USA, where he was described as a "10-finger wizard".
In 1966, he went to Mar del Plata, Argentina, to perform at the Festival de Mar del Plata. There, he impressed RCA Victor officials, who asked him to stay and record an album in Spanish. They were unsure what they wanted to record so Feliciano suggested the bolero music of his parents. The result was two smash hits with the singles "Poquita Fe" ("Little Faith", also entitled "Sin Fe", or "Without Faith"), a song written by fellow Puerto Rican Bobby Capó, and "Usted" (the formal version of "you" in Spanish).
A year later, Feliciano was due to perform in the United Kingdom but the authorities would not allow his guide dog, Trudy, into the country unless she was quarantined for six months. The stringent quarantine measures of those days were intended to prevent the spread of rabies. Feliciano later wrote a song entitled, "No Dogs Allowed" (becoming a Netherlands Top 10 hit in 1969), which told the story of his first visit to London.
During his British visit, on July 16, 1967, Feliciano gave a live performance on the pirate radio stations Radio 227 and Radio 355, on board the MV Laissez Faire off the British coast less than a month before the stations were due to be closed by the UK's Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. He also guested on a popular British television show with Dusty Springfield and recorded a rare single for UK RCA called "My Foolish Heart / Only Once" which was played on London radio. Earlier, on June 4, 1967, in London's Speakeasy Club, Jimi Hendrix came to the stage and complimented Feliciano on his extraordinary guitar work .
After two more successful albums, Feliciano, now a household name all over Latin America, moved to Los Angeles. He got together with RCA Victor producer Rick Jarrard who was, at the time, also producing Harry Nilsson and Jefferson Airplane. They recorded the Doors' song "Light My Fire" in a Latin style and released it as a single, and in the summer of 1968 it reached #3 on the US pop charts with over one million copies sold in the US market alone. The song became a #1 hit in many countries, including Canada, Brazil and the UK and was awarded a gold disc. On the strength of this success, Feliciano won two 1968 Grammy Awards for Best New Artist of the Year and Best Pop Song of the Year, bringing him worldwide recognition as a pop star and stylistic leader because of his "crossover" from Latino music to English-language pop rock. He is widely recognized as the first virtuoso classical guitarist to bring nylon-string guitars into the pop rock scene.
On October 7, 1968, at the height of protests against the Vietnam War, Feliciano was invited by Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Tiger Stadium in Detroit during Game 5 pre-game ceremonies of the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. His personalised, slow, Latin jazz performance proved highly controversial. In an October 2006 NPR broadcast, he expressed pride at opening the door for later interpretations of the national anthem. His World Series rendition, which features him accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, was released as a single that charted for five weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #50. That recording of the National Anthem is now on permanent exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY
In 1969, working with Quincy Jones on the Mackenna's Gold movie soundtrack, he recorded popular theme song "Old Turkey Buzzard". Also that year, he appeared on numerous US television shows, performing duets with Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Bing Crosby, Glen Campbell, Andy Williams, and Diana Ross.
In 1970, Feliciano wrote and released an album of Christmas music, Feliz Navidad. The title song has been covered by many artists, becoming a traditional part of the musical landscape around the world at Christmas time. Each year, during the Christmas season, "Feliz Navidad" returns to the airwaves as one of the most-played and most-downloaded songs of the season. "Feliz Navidad" is also recognized by ASCAP as one of the 25 all-time most-played Christmas songs in the world. It is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In 1971, he traveled to Italy to participate in the Sanremo Music Festival, singing the song "Che Sarà" in Italian, earning second place in that contest along with a standing ovation by the Italian public. He later recorded the song, which became a success in Italy, and in much of Europe, including the Eastern Bloc countries, as well as in Asia. Feliciano later recorded it in Spanish as "Qué Será", which became a hit in Central and South America, and in English as "Shake a Hand," which was a hit in Scandinavian countries.
He wrote and performed the theme song to the 1970s comedy series Chico and the Man, and played a guest role on that series as the cousin of Chico (Freddie Prinze), singer Pepe Fernando. In the 1970s, he acted and composed for television series and movies including McMillan & Wife, Kung Fu, and the soundtrack for the 1976 movie Aaron Loves Angela. He has also been a guest performer on many albums by other artists, including Bill Withers's +'Justments, John Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll, Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, Michael Nesmith's Tantamount to Treason and has given concerts with Carlos Santana, Cat Stevens, and Paul Simon.
In 1975, on his last RCA album Just Wanna Rock'n'Roll Feliciano released his well known jazz-funk-Latin instrumental composition "Affirmation", which was re-released one year later by jazz guitarist George Benson on his hit album Breezin'.
In early 1974, he played in Prague, Czechoslovakia, sharing the stage with Czech idol Karel Gott. Feliciano was one of the very few western pop stars who was able to straddle the cultural barrier between the West and the Eastern Bloc countries.
In 1979, he recorded a spontaneous version of his 1968 hit "Light My Fire", as a duet with rhythm and blues/pop singer Minnie Riperton. The duet was included on Riperton's final studio album for Capitol Records. Riperton died of cancer two months after its release. It has been said that the duet was unplanned, which is the reason Feliciano is not heard until the second half of the song. He and Riperton were friends and he just happened to be at the studio when it was being recorded and popped in.
During the 1980s, after a brief attempt at an English album produced by Berry Gordy, (Feliciano was a guest on the famous 1983 NBC television show Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever), record companies recognized his primary affinity for the Latin market, and he began recording an impressive number of hit records for that market, including the Motown albums Escenas de Amor and Me Enamoré, as well as others from RCA, EMI, and Capitol, garnering four more Grammy Awards for best Latin performer. He recorded a duet called "Por Ella" with the most popular Mexican singer at the time, José José, which became a Latin hit. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, José recorded duets with Natalie Cole (Everlasting), Gloria Estefan (Alma Caribena), jazz singer Diane Schuur ("By Design" and "The Wedding Song") on her 1985 album Schuur Things, and with Paul Simon on a particular version of his album Songs from The Capeman.
Feliciano received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987, continuing as a very popular singer for the rest of the 1980s. He had his hands cast on the famous Madame Tussauds Museum's Wall of Fame and has a star on the Walk of Fame of his native Puerto Rico. He also had a hit in 1987 in Austria with the song "The Sound of Vienna", which reached number 1 there for 4 weeks, and recorded with the famous Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra also performed with him live on national television at Danube Park in Vienna before more than 60,000 people. Feliciano also released the cover version of Richard Marx's Right Here Waiting in early 1990.
In 1994, Feliciano recorded a dance record in English entitled "Goin' Krazy" (MJM Records) under the pseudonym JR. Latino disk jockeys around the world supported the record, helping the 12-inch dance record chart on Billboard and earning him new and younger fans.
In 1995, Feliciano was honored by the City of New York, which renamed Public School 155 as the Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School. In 1996, he had a short cameo role in the film Fargo where he performed as a lounge act that Steve Buscemi (as Carl Showalter) took an escort for an evening out.
Feliciano was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.
Feliciano performed the theme song "Behind the Mask" for the television series Queen of Swords in 2000. A promotional video sung in Spanish but never published can be found on YouTube. The full English version, never published, sung by Feliciano and the composers Spencer Proffer and Steve Plunkett is also on YouTube. He would be presented the 2000 Grammy Legend Award at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards, the same ceremony that saw Santana win 9 Grammys and Christina Aguilera become the second Hispanic to win Best New Artist.
In 2000 Guitarra Mía, a special tribute to Feliciano, was produced by the Banco Popular de Puerto Rico and aired both in Puerto Rico and in US cities with large Puerto Rican populations. This television special (and its soundtrack) featured Feliciano and many Puerto Rican and international stars singing some of his most famous songs, along with his personal favorites from other artists. It was first aired in December 2000, just two days after his mother died unexpectedly from a heart attack. The special's last scenes featured her giving her son a standing ovation, recorded for the occasion a month before.
On December 6, 2006, Feliciano's new Spanish album, "José Feliciano y Amigos," was released by Universal Records, featuring Feliciano in duets with other Latin American stars including Luis Fonsi, Lupillo Rivera, Luciano Pereyra, Rudy Pérez, Cristian Castro, Marc Anthony, Ramón Ayala, Alicia Villarreal, Ricardo Montaner, and Raúl di Blasio. A special edition was later released, featuring Ana Gabriel and Gloria Estefan.
In 2007, Feliciano released an album called "Soundtracx of My Life," the first English-language album composed and written by him.
In 2009, after winning his eighth Grammy for the album Señor Bolero, he left Siente Music and released two new English-language albums for digital download, only available from his personal websites. One was dedicated to American Classics, including songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, and the other was an instrumental album in homage to jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt who inspired Feliciano, and features Feliciano's song "Djangoisms". A single from the Kumbia All Starz features him and the Tejano band Los Dinos, released April 28, 2010.
On May 10, 2010, Feliciano performed his rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Comerica Park in Detroit. This was part of the remembrance of Detroit Tigers radio announcer Ernie Harwell, who had died the Tuesday before. He played it similarly to the way he had in 1968 with his acoustic guitar and his slow tempo-ed, Latin jazz style.
On December 15, 2010, Feliciano appeared as the featured guest on the 37th episode of Daryl Hall's Webbie-Award winning webcast Live From Daryl's House. Feliciano and Hall took turns on several numbers, including Feliciano's version of "Light My Fire." On November 9, 2011, Feliciano received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
In January 2012, he was a guest in Memphis for the celebration of Elvis Presley's birthday, where he announced the release (on August 7, 2012) of his new album The King, a tribute to Elvis produced in collaboration with Elvis' former manager, George Klein. In July 2012, he signs with managers MBM/Howard Perl Management and then on August 7, 2012, Feliciano released The King, a tribute to Elvis Presley. The record was executive-produced by Elvis' former best friend George Klein and released by Johnny Phillips' Select-O-Hits label.
On September 19, 2012, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, he was invited to sing "God Bless America" for the seventh-inning stretch of the New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium. Additionally, less than one month later, on October 14, 2012, Feliciano returned to baseball's post-season, and on national television, once again rendered his stylized version of the Star-Spangled Banner in San Francisco before the first game of the National League's Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jose Feliciano met Susan Omillian, an art student, in Detroit, Michigan in August 1971. After becoming friends and dating for exactly 11 years they married in 1982. They have three children: a daughter, Melissa, and two sons, Jonathan and Michael. Susan was raised in Detroit and met Ernie Harwell during the controversy over Feliciano's rendition of the National Anthem in 1968. It was Harwell who later introduced her to Feliciano.
Sense of humor:
Besides his musical skills, Feliciano is known for his strong sense of humor. He constantly makes fun of people's reactions to his blindness, and has even played practical jokes on friends and family based on this. Once his then bass player, Ted Arnold, contrived to allow Feliciano to appear to be driving down a busy street, fooling the passing police. During a show he once said, "I was going to dedicate this next song, 'Zorba The Greek', to Howard Hughes but I can't see him!" He then dedicated it to Jacqueline Onassis.
He has performed comedy sketches alongside Freddie Prinze, Sunshine Logroño, and the staff of Despierta América and Verónica Castro, among others. He has also parodied fellow artists in his concerts, including Julio Iglesias, Raphael, Rocío Jurado and Isabel Pantoja. An occasional song at his Spanish concerts is a parody of Bobby Capó's song "El Bardo".
In an early 1990s episode of an Australian comedy show, Hey Hey It's Saturday, Feliciano was a judge on the talent sketch segment "Red Faces". After initially joking how he had never seen any other acts before, judge Red Symons handed him a cheese grater, mentioning his ability to read braille. After running his hands over it, Feliciano stated: "Oh yeah, I've read this. This is the most violent book I've ever read."
Feliciano's recording of "Old Turkey Buzzard" became a recurring bit on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2007, until he appeared on the show on October 16 that year to perform a live rendition of the song.
In December 2009 a parody of "Feliz Navidad" entitled "The Illegal Alien Christmas Song" was created by radio producers Matt Fox and A. J. Rice and posted on the website for Human Events, a Washington-based conservative weekly publication. The parody, sung in English, played on the stereotype of Latino immigrants as heavy drinkers and that undocumented immigrants were going to "spread bubonic plague".
Feliciano released a statement on December 23 on his official website:
"This song has always been a bridge to the cultures that are so dear to me, never as a vehicle for a political platform of racism and hate. It's disgusting and my only wish that my song and I are distanced from the whole affair as soon as possible."
In a statement to the Associated Press the same day, Jed Babbin, Human Events' site editor, apologized for "any offense that Mr. Feliciano may have taken from this parody" and removed it from the site.