José Montserrate Feliciano García (born September 10, 1945) is a blind Puerto Rican singer, virtuoso guitarist and composer, known for many international hits including the 1970 holiday single "Feliz Navidad".
Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, one of twelve children. He is blind because of congenital glaucoma. He was first exposed to music at age three. He would play a tin cracker can while accompanying his uncle who played the Cuatro (Puerto Rico). When he was five, his family moved to Spanish Harlem, New York City and, at age nine, he played on the Teatro Puerto Rico. He started his musical life playing accordion until his grandfather gave him a guitar. He reportedly sat by himself in his room for up to 14 hours a day to listen to 1950s rock albums, classical guitarists such as Andrés Segovia, and jazz players such as Wes Montgomery. He later had classical lessons with Harold Morris who earlier had been a student with Segovia.
In 1963, after some live performances in pubs and clubs around the USA and Canada, especially in Greenwich Village, NY and Vancouver, BC, where he played at the same time as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, he was signed at RCA Victor. In 1964, he released his first single "Everybody Do the Click" (which become a hit in Philippines, at nr2 and stayed for 14 weeks in TopTen Hit parade) . Later, in 1965 and 1966, he also 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 radio across the USA, where he was described as a "10 finger wizard". He also was invited to the Newport Jazz festival in 1964.
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 told him to stay there to record an album in Spanish. They were not sure what they wanted to record, but Feliciano suggested they record bolero music. The result was two smash hits with the singles "Poquita Fe" ("Little Faith", a.k.a. "Sin Fe", or "Without Faith"), a song written by fellow Puerto Rican Bobby Capó, and "Usted" (the formal way to say "you" in Spanish).
A year later, Feliciano was due to perform in the United Kingdom, but the authorities would not allow his guide dog into the country unless it was in quarantine 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", 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.
After two more successful albums, Feliciano, now a household name all over Latin America, moved to Los Angeles. He got together with Rick Jarrard who was, at the time, also producing Nilsson and Jefferson Airplane. They recorded The Doors' song "Light My Fire" in a Latin style and when released as a single, it reached #3 on the US pop charts in late summer, 1968. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Many subsequent recordings of "Light My Fire" by a multitude of artists took the arrangement from the Feliciano recording. He immediately became a sensation all across North America, selling millions of albums and followed up his success with another top 20 hit in the US with his version of "Hi-Heel Sneakers", again recorded with a Latin feel. On the strength of this success he won two Grammy Awards for Best New Artist Of The Year and for Best Pop Song Of The Year in 1969.
In October 1968, at the height of protests against the Vietnam War, Feliciano was given the opportunity by Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Tiger Stadium in Detroit during Game 5 pregame ceremonies of the 1968 World Series. His highly personalized, slow, latin jazz performance proved highly controversial. As a result of his unusual delivery, many radio stations refused to play his songs, and his career was stalled for almost three years. Even so, in an October, 2006 NPR broadcast, he expressed pride for opening the door for later reinterpretations of the national anthem. His World Series rendition, which features him accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, was released as a single which charted for 5 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #50.
On May 10, 2010, Feliciano performed his rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" again 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 how he did in 1968; with his acoustic guitar and in his slow tempo-ed, latin jazz style.
In 1970, he wrote and released an album of Christmas music, Feliz Navidad, which may be deemed to be his most famous recording. The title song has been covered by many artists and is now a traditional part of the musical landscape in the U.S, Canada and Latin America around Christmas time. Each year during the Christmas season, "Feliz Navidad" returns to US airwaves, one of the most-played and most-downloaded radio songs and 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.
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 as well as a standing ovation by the Italian public. He later recorded the song, which became a well-known act in Italy, a great hit in half of Europe, including the Iron Curtain countries, as well as in Asia. Feliciano later recorded it in Spanish as "Qué Será", becoming a hit in all of Central and South America, and in English as "Shake a Hand", a big 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 TV series and movies including McMillan & Wife, Kung Fu episodes, the soundtrack of the movie Aaron Loves Angela in 1976, and Mackenna's Gold with Quincy Jones. He has guested 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, Natalie Cole's Everlasting and Gloria Estefan's Alma Caribena.