Jose Feliciano [1945 -]
Jose Feliciano was born in 1945 in Lares, Puerto Rico, and moved to New York with his family when he was five years old. Blind from birth, he showed an early passion for music, and taught himself to play the accordion when he was six. He next took up the guitar, and at the age of 17 he quit school to dedicate himself to music full time. Jose began by playing for tips in Greenwish Village coffee houses in New York City, performing both English and Spanish songs for folk music fans in some of the same venues where Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and other folk music luminaries appeared.
Feliciano developed his own followers and began to travel, and soon signed to record his first album of English songs, Voice and Guitar of Jose Feliciano, with RCA Victor in 1965. The following year he also released an album of boleros in Spanish. From the start of his career, Feliciano moved easily between Spanish and English songs and cultivated a diverse audience. In addition to his powerful voice, his virtuosic guitar playing made him a popular act on television, where he accompanied leading singers of the day, including Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, and others, for a while using the pseudonym Werbley Finster. In 1969 Feliciano won a Grammy award for “Best New Artist.”
Jose Feliciano’s music became deeply woven into the fabric of American culture. His distinctive rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at the 1968 World Series created both excitement and controversy; released on record, it stayed on the Billboard charts for five weeks, and opened the way for other artists to interpret the national anthem with more personal freedom. His 1970 hit, “Feliz Navidad,” had people all over the U.S. singing along in both Spanish and English. His 1975 instrumental composition “Affirmation” was covered by guitarist George Benson on his hit album, “Breezin.” Feliciano also composed and recorded the theme song for the 1970s TV sitcom, “Chico and the Man,” starring Freddie Prinze.
During the 1980s and 1990s Feliciano continued to record his own music and to perform and record with other leading artists, including Joni Mitchell, Carlos Santana, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, and Natalie Cole. As a virtuoso instrumentalist, Feliciano also played guitar with some of the leading symphony orchestras in the world, including the London Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
In 1987 Jose Feliciano received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1995 he was honored by the city of New York, which renamed Public School 155 as the Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School. He has also won seven Grammy Awards and a Latin Grammy. Jose Feliciano continues to perform and record for diverse audiences in the United States and around the world, playing music that transcends narrow labels and identities.