Jose Feliciano is a one of the few Latin American musicians to achieve mainstream success with his soulful, Latin rendition of “Light My Fire.”
Jose Feliciano – at a glance
Jose Feliciano is a Grammy Award-winning Puerto Rican singer-songwriter and guitarist. Music caught his passion, and Feliciano (who has been blind since infancy) first played the accordion but then later took up the guitar when he was younger. By the early 1960s Feliciano was already playing in clubs across the country (particularly in New York’s Greenwich Village and Detroit, Michigan) and Canada. While not finding any success yet in breaking into the mainstream market, Feliciano returned to his roots recording Spanish-language songs and albums. Most of his hits were concentrated in Argentina. By then he had become a Latin American superstar. Feliciano moved to Los Angeles, California in 1968. He recorded his Latin-flavored rendition of The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” showing his virtuosity in playing nylon string guitars which were almost unheard-of in the pop and rock world. “Light My Fire” became a monster hit, reaching the US top five on the pop chart. It also topped the charts of other countries like Canada and Brazil in 1968. The song finally catapulted the blind singer-guitarist to worldwide fame. Feliciano’s style didn’t always meet with enthusiasm, however, as shown by his deliberately slow, Latin-jazz interpretation of the US national anthem “Star-Spangled Banner” during the 1968 World Series; it was deemed controversial. But over the years it has grown to be one of the greatest interpretations of the US national anthem. His other claim to fame is his self-penned tune “Feliz Navidad,” released in November 1970, and since then it has been one of the classic Christmas staples and is recognized as one of the most popular Christmas songs the world over. To date Feliciano has issued 60-plus singles around the world as well as 40 studio albums; those figures include his Spanish-language releases.
Despite his blindness, this didn’t cloud Feliciano’s vision of his musical career success
Singer-songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Jose Feliciano was born Jose Montserrate Feliciano Garcia in Lares, Puerto Rico on September 10, 1945. At birth he suffered from congenital glaucoma which left him permanently blind. When he was five years old, he and his family moved to the US mainland, finally settling in New York’s Spanish Harlem.
Despite his blindness, Feliciano followed his innate passion for music. When he was younger he first played the accordion before being gifted with a guitar. He practiced with the instrument for many hours in his room, listening to popular rock and roll records as well as jazz, soul and classical guitar music.
While he was in high school Feliciano was already performing mostly in Greenwich Village clubs, and at 17 he quit school to accept his first professional, contracted gig in Detroit.
Feliciano signed his first recording contract with RCA Victor label in 1963. The following year his first recorded single (released on RCA) was 1964’s “Everybody Do The Click” didn’t become a hit in the US but in the Philippines it was a huge smash.
While not finding mainstream success in the US, Feliciano decided to return to his roots, releasing Spanish-language singles and LPs that eventually made him a major star in Latin America (most especially in Argentina). He released these Spanish-language albums — Sombras.. Una Voz, Una Guitarra, Mas Exitos de Jose Feliciano and many others, and singles such as “La Copa Rota” — on RCA International.
In the summer of 1968, Feliciano released his version of “Light My Fire” as a single. His acoustic guitar-driven, Latin soul rendition of The Doors’ hit brought him breakthrough mainstream success; the single peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #6 on the UK singles chart. Because of Feliciano’s single’s huge crossover success during his banner year, in 1969 he was awarded with two Grammy’s — one for Best New Year Artist and Best Pop Song of the Year for “Light My Fire.”
His success was further solidified with his cover of Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers” (#25 on the Hot 100). Feliciano’s newfound popularity eventually allowed him to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the pre-game ceremonies of the 1968 World Series in Detroit. Feliciano sang the national anthem in his own peculiar, Latin-jazz rendition in a slow tempo, which was deemed to be very controversial and was attacked by music purists and traditionalists. Despite the controversy and the criticism, Feliciano expressed pride at his performance which has allowed other artists to interpret the national anthem in their own style. Feliciano’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” charted on the Hot 100 at #50.
Feliciano wrote a holiday song titled “Feliz Navidad,” which was included in the 1970 album of the same title. After it was released, the single became a hit, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. During the holidays every year, “Feliz Navidad” became one of the most popularly-played (and also downloaded) Christmas classic not only in the United States and Latin America but also worldwide.
Although Feliciano never quite surpassed or equaled the success of “Light My Fire,” he has continued to be active in performing and touring throughout the 1970s and beyond. However, his Spanish-language records — which were released on Motown, RCA, EMI and Capitol — continued to be a hit in the Latin market. He has won eight competitive Grammy Awards and an honorary Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Feliciano has released 30-plus international albums, 20-odd Spanish-language albums, and over sixty charting singles (both in English and Spanish). Feliciano received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987.