Feliciano in 1998
|Birth name||José Monserrate Feliciano García|
|Born||September 10, 1945|
Lares, Puerto Rico
José Monserrate Feliciano García (born September 10, 1945), better known simply as José Feliciano [xoˈse feliˈsjano], is a Puerto Rican musician, singer and composer, best 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 its fusion of styles: Latin, jazz, blues, soul and even rock, created primarily with his unique, signature acoustic guitar sound. His oftentimes mellow easy listening influences are easily recognizable in many songs heard around the world.
In the United States, he first received widespread popularity in the 1960s, particularly after his 1968 album Feliciano! reached number two on the music charts. Thus far, he has released over fifty albums, worldwide, in both English and Spanish.
Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, on September 10, 1945. The fourth child of 11 sons, he was born blind as a result of congenital glaucoma. He was first exposed to music at the age of 3, playing on a tin cracker can while accompanying his uncle who played the cuatro. When Feliciano was 5, his family moved to Spanish Harlem, New York City, where at the age of 9 he made his first public appearance at the Teatro Puerto Rico in The Bronx.
Feliciano's knack for music became apparent when at 7, he taught himself to play the accordion. About two years later, when he was 9 years old, his father gave him his first guitar. He would play his guitar by himself in his room for up to 14 hours a day, and would learn by listening to 1950s rock and roll, records of classical guitarists and jazz players. Andrés Segovia and Wes Montgomery were among his favorites. As a teenager, Feliciano took classical guitar lessons with Harold Morris, a staff music teacher at The Light House School for the Blind in New York City. Morris, himself, had once been a student of Andres Segovia. In a 1969 interview, Feliciano mentioned soul music in general, and Ray Charles and Sam Cooke in particular, as influences on his singing.
At 17, in order to help support his family, Feliciano left high school. He started frequenting the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, "passing the hat" as his "salary" in those clubs where he was invited to play. His first professional contracted performance was at The Retort, a coffee house in Detroit, Michigan.
In 1963, while gaining recognition in pubs, coffee houses and clubs throughout the U.S. and Canada, especially in Greenwich Village, New York, and Vancouver, British Columbia, he was unexpectedly discovered while performing at Gerde's Folk City in the Village and immediately signed by Jack Somer, an executive at RCA Victor. Feliciano recounts the story of doing an impression of Bob Dylan, only to find that Dylan was in the audience. In 1964, he released his first single, "Everybody Do the Click" (which became a hit in the Philippines, at No. 2, staying 14 weeks in the Top Ten Hit parade) and 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 US, where in July 1963 he had been described by New York Times columnist, Robert Shelton as a "10-fingered wizard".
In 1966, Jose visited Mar del Plata, Argentina, to perform at the Festival de Mar del Plata. There, he so impressed the RCA Victor executives, that they wanted him to stay and record an album for them in Spanish. They were unsure how they wanted to record Feliciano so Jose suggested he record some of the bolero music of his parents where Jose then added his blues and folk influences from his experiences while playing in the Village. The result was two smash hits with the singles "Poquita Fe" ("Little Faith", also titled "Sin Fe", or "Without Faith"), and "Usted". This was the beginning of a series of successful singles, albums and gold records throughout Latin America and Hispanic communities in the United States where Feliciano revolutionized the sound of the bolero. Some of his most beloved interpretations include "La Copa Rota, La Carcel de Sing Sing, Extraños en la Noche" which charted concurrently as the Spanish version of Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night."
A year later, Feliciano was scheduled to perform in the United Kingdom but the authorities would not allow his guide dog, Trudy, into the country unless she was quarantined for 6 months. The stringent quarantine measures of those days were intended to prevent the spread of rabies. Devastated by their actions, Feliciano wrote a song about his experience entitled "No Dogs Allowed" (becoming a Netherlands Top 10 hit in 1969), which told the story of this 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 RCA in England called "My Foolish Heart / Only Once" which was played on London radio[clarification needed]. 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 throughout Latin America, moved to Los Angeles. He was introduced to RCA Victor producer, Rick Jarrard who, at the time, was also producing Harry Nilsson and Jefferson Airplane. They recorded the hit album Feliciano! together, including the Doors' song "Light My Fire". Jose's style was clearly defining itself by that time as that of an innovative crossover artist with soul, folk and rock influences, infused with a substantial Latin flair. RCA released "California Dreamin'" as the first single during the summer of 1968 with "Light My Fire" as the B-side. A DJ behind the mic at KJR-Radio in Seattle, Washington liked that song on the flip side, played it on the air, and it took off, reaching #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 2 Grammy Awards in 1968 for Best New Artist of the Year and Best Pop Male Performance, bringing him worldwide recognition as an avant garde pop star due to his unique "crossover" style from Latino music to English-language pop/rock. He is widely recognized as the first virtuoso classical guitarist to bring the sound of a nylon-string guitar into the pop/rock scene. The Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger has complimented the cover.
- Feliciano's "Star-Spangled Banner"
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 personalized, slow, Latin jazz performance proved highly controversial and damaging to Jose's career in the months, even years, that followed. In an October 2006 NPR broadcast, however, he expressed pride at being the one to open the door for artists who could later interpret the nation's anthem. His World Series rendition, which features Feliciano accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, was released as a single that charted for 5 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 50; the first time the United States' anthem appeared on the American music charts. That recording of the national anthem is now on permanent exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
In 1969, Jose recorded two more albums with Rick Jarrard, 10 to 23 and the London Palladium double-disc LP, Alive Alive-O!, both of which were awarded gold discs. He also worked with Quincy Jones on the Mackenna's Gold movie soundtrack, where he recorded the theme song "Old Turkey Buzzard" and appeared on numerous US television shows, performing duets with Johnny Cash, Bing Crosby, Glen Campbell, Andy Williams, and Diana Ross.
- Feliz Navidad
In 1970, Feliciano released an album of Christmas music, again with Rick Jarrard, originally entitled Jose Feliciano, festively resembling a Christmas present in gold wrapping with a big green and red bow. Later, the album would assume the name of its most unlikely selection, that of the little song, Jose's composition, "Feliz Navidad." During the recording process Rick had suggested that Jose write "a new Christmas song for the album!" Jose thought it impractical but began reminiscing about his childhood in Puerto Rico and moments later "Feliz Navidad" was born. "Feliz Navidad" has been covered internationally by countless 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 and 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 from the Italian public. Jose later recorded the song with Rick Jarrard, which became a success in Italy, and in much of Europe, including the Eastern Bloc countries, as well as in Asia. They 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 the Scandinavian countries.
Feliciano wrote and performed the theme song to the 1970s comedy series Chico and the Man, and played a guest role in one episode 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 Vol. 1, 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 a year later by jazz guitarist George Benson on his hit album Breezin.
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. Feliciano recalls that the duet was unplanned, which is why he is not heard until the second half of the song. He and Riperton were friends and he just happened to be working in an adjoining studio while she was recording and popped in to say "hello!"
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During the 1980s, after a brief stay on Motown with two English-language albums produced by Berry Gordy in 1981 and Rick Jarrard in 1983, Feliciano was a guest on the 1983 NBC television show Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. Also during this time period Jose Feliciano's manager Burl Hechtman and promoters Gary Mason and Leonardo Schultz met with President of Motown Records Jay Lasker and convinced him to record a Spanish album. They promised Lasker "big sales" and a Grammy nomination. The album would be produced by Leonardo Schultz and Exec Produced by Mason under the watchful eye of Hechtman. The album entitled Escenas Amor was a big hit in the Latin market and garnered a Grammy nomination for best Latin Pop Performance. A second album was green-lighted by Lasker, entitled Me Enamora with the same production team, which was an even bigger hit, and received a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Performance. During this time period, Mason and Schultz also arranged for Feliciano to perform at the Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar. Feliciano left Motown and released a number of successful records for that market, including the Motown albums Escenas de Amor and Me Enamoré, as well as others from RCA, EMI, and Capitol, garnering 4 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 ("More Than the Stars" on her 1987 album Everlasting), Gloria Estefan ("Tengo Que Decirte Algo" on her 2000 album Alma Caribeña), Chamaco Rivera ("Consuelo" on his 1984 album Por Fin), jazz singer Diane Schuur ("By Design" and "The American Wedding Song" on her 1985 album Schuur Thing), and Paul Simon ("Born in Puerto Rico" on his 1997 album Songs from The Capeman). In 1982, Feliciano played guitar on the DeBarge record All This Love. In 1987 Feliciano gave two concerts in East Germany: One in Leipzig and another in East Berlin with the Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester.
- Walk of Fame
Feliciano received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 1, 1987, galvanizing his high profile as a popular singer and celebrity. Feliciano was honored by the City of New York, which renamed Public School 155 as the Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School. His hands were cast on Madame Tussauds Museum's Wall of Fame and he 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 Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra also performed with him live on national television at Danube Park in Vienna before more than 60,000 people.
When Jose Feliciano became a father in 1988, in 1991 and again in 1995, he enjoyed staying closer to home. Always loving radio and wanting to one day be a disc jockey, Jose teamed up with Mark Graham, the owner/programmer/DJ of radio station WMMM in Westport, Connecticut, where they co-hosted a weekly live radio broadcast called Speaking of Music. Here the comical duo would chat about music of all kinds and Jose shared his vast knowledge of the music industry. Jose would play live on air, take questions from callers and interview guest artists. He enjoyed that post for over a year and says he learned a lot from the experience.
Feliciano released a cover version of Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting" in early 1990, and in 1994 he recorded a dance record in English entitled "Goin' Krazy" (MJM Records) under the pseudonym JF?. 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.
Feliciano was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.
Jose Feliciano was presented the 2000 Grammy Legend Award at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards, as well as performed the theme song "Behind the Mask" for the television series Queen of Swords also in 2000.
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 the US. 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 2 days after his mother died unexpectedly from a heart attack. The special's final scenes featured her giving her son a standing ovation, recorded for the occasion a month before.
On December 6, 2006, Feliciano's 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 Soundtrax of My Life, the first English-language album completely self-penned.
On October 16, 2007, Feliciano appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman to perform "Old Turkey Buzzard," the theme song from Mackenna's Gold. For several months prior, Letterman had been using a clip from the movie and song as a running gag.
In 2009, Jose was awarded his 8th Grammy for the album Señor Bolero.
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.
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 recently died on May 4. Requested to perform it by Harwell, himself, before he died, Jose played it the way he had in 1968 with his acoustic guitar and his slow tempo, Latin jazz style.
In 2011, Feliciano signed with manager Howard Perl and MBM Entertainment who immediately brought him to The Agency Group. 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' best friend, radio personality 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 a 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. Soon Feliciano appeared on a song with reggaeton artist Farruko called Su hija me gusta, where a young man tells a father I like your daughter. He also began recording sessions with Producers Howard Perl, Jon Guggenheim, Juan Cristobal Losada, Wyclef Jean, Placido Domingo, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Frank Licari.
In November 2017, Feliciano released a new Jazz and R&B Album with UK star-musician Jools Holland and sold out a 33-date tour throughout the UK and Ireland. The album became a hit and reached number 24 in the UK charts, the first time for an LP by José after his 1970 LP "Fireworks."
1968–2018: Feliciano celebrates his golden anniversary
The year 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of Feliciano's iconic, yet highly controversial, rendition of the United States' national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," as well as his entry onto the international music scene with his RCA recording of Feliciano!, which featured "Light My Fire." The anniversary year was celebrated for its impact on Feliciano's career with concerts performed around the world, including Australia, throughout Europe and North and South America.
Feliciano's golden anniversary year was highlighted in May with his return to his homeland of Puerto Rico. The event was held at the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center, Centro de Bellas Artes, and was called Jose Feliciano: Transcendental 50th Aniversario de Oro y su Legado. To a full house, Feliciano and his homeland public shared his 50 years of musical celebrity in the two-hour spectacle.
On Flag Day, June 14, 2018, Feliciano was the keynote address speaker for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. where 19 new citizens pledged their allegiance to the United States. The event was held in Flag Hall, where the actual banner that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the poem which would become "The Star-Spangled Banner" is exhibited. At this same event a donation ceremony was held where Feliciano presented to the Smithsonian Museum his Candelas guitar with which he first rendered the "Star-Spangled Banner,", causing a national furor in 1968, along with other personal objects for the Smithsonian's permanent collection.
On September 8, 2018, Feliciano was invited by the Detroit Tigers baseball team to return to their field and perform the "Star-Spangled Banner" again as he had in 1968. The Tigers were facing the St. Louis Cardinals again and they wanted Feliciano to recapture the moment reminiscent of their own 50th anniversary of winning the World Series. This time around, the performance was met not with undertones of the hatred and hostility of 1968 but rather, with the uproarious cheers of an enthusiastically grateful crowd. 50 years later, Jose "Feliciano was finally at peace with his being the first artist to stylize the National Anthem publicly."
Feliciano's golden anniversary year culminated with a Christmas performance at the Vatican to perform in their annual Christmas celebration, Concerto di Natale, 2018. During their time in Rome, Feliciano and his son, Jonnie, were invited to attend a private audience with Pope Francis.
In January 2019, Feliciano was invited to appear on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon where they took their show on the road to Puerto Rico with composer, actor and producer Lin-Manuel Miranda to show the world that “The spirit and soul of Puerto Rico and her people are alive and well and that the Island, ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017, is indeed, ‘Open for Business.’ “ Jose was joined onstage with Puerto Rico's hottest reggaton and Latin trap singer, Ozuna, where together they performed their Island's sentimental anthem, "En Mi Viejo San Juan." A studio version of the song was subsequently recorded for Anthem Records and released on June 7, 2019 on all of the major digital platforms around the world. 20% of its proceeds are going to Miranda's Flamboyan Arts Fund, which supports all facets of the arts including music, theater, visual arts, dance, literature and arts education programs for youth and thus ensuring that arts and culture continue to flourish during the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.
On the same weekend in New York City, Feliciano was honored during the 62nd Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc. with a Lifetime Achievement Award, honoring him for his contributions to the world of music, while celebrating his roots and love for his island home.
During May and June 2019, Feliciano was recording an album for Anthem Records in both Nashville and Connecticut with his long-time producer, Rick Jarrard. The album is called Behind This Guitar and was released January 31, 2020.
Feliciano was divorced from his first wife, Janna (née Hilda Pérez, 1945–2018), in 1978.
José Feliciano met Susan Omillian, a young art student in Detroit, Michigan in August 1971. After becoming friends and dating for 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. The Feliciano Family reside in New England.
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, Washington-based weekly publication. The parody, sung in English, played on the stereotype of Mexican immigrants as heavy drinkers and that illegal 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.
He was also awarded the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
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