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Feliciano, José

José Feliciano

Singer, guitarist

Big in Argentina

Just a Musician

Later Success Limited to Spanish Market

Selected discography

Sources

Although many music lovers know his name, most could probably name only one or two of the innumerable songs recorded by guitarist José Feliciano. The staying-power of his biggest hits on American music charts and the fact that he has been blind since birth have together made Felicianos name a household word in the English-speaking United States and Britain; in the Spanish-speaking world, however, he is a major star.

Feliciano was born on September 10, 1945, into a Puerto Rican family barely supported by his fathers work as a farmer. By 1950, Felicianos parents had relocated the growing family to a Latino section of New York Citys Harlem, where his father found work as a longshoreman. By this time, young José was already beginning to develop an enormous aptitude with musical instruments. According to his press biography, His love affair with music began at the age of three, when he first accompanied his uncle on a tin cracker can. By the age of six, Feliciano had taught himself to play the concertina simply by listening to records and practicing. Later in his career, Feliciano would master the bass, banjo, mandolin, and various keyboards.

In his early teens, Feliciano discovered his instrument of choice: the acoustic guitar. Again he taught himself to play simply by listening to records. The second of 12 children, Feliciano was blessed with a lucrative talent; by the age of 16, he was contributing to the family income by playing folk, flamenco, and pop guitar on the Greenwich Village coffeehouse circuit. At a time when his father was out of work, 17-year-old Feliciano quit school in order to perform full-time. He played his first professional showfor which he was paid by the club instead of from a hat passed through the audienceat the Retort Coffee House in Detroit in 1963. Back in New York that year, he was discovered at Gerdes Folk City.

Big in Argentina

The RCA Records executive who spotted Feliciano quickly arranged a recording contract. The singers first album and single, both of which were produced in English in 1964, failed to make it onto the U.S. music charts; but the album The Voice and Guitar of José Feliciano did catch on with disc jockeys, who played it regularly on their radio stations. In his first years with RCA Felicianos producers focused on his Puerto Rican background and marketed most of his albums to Latin American audiences; consequently, his name first became familiar to Spanish-speaking North American and South American listeners. Indeed, as early as 1966, before any of his recordings had appeared on

For the Record

Born José Monserrate Feliciano, September 10, 1945, in Lares, Puerto Rico; son of a farmer/longshoreman; married Hilda Perez (a club manager), mid-1960s; married Susan Omillion, 1982; children: Melissa Anne, Jonathan José.

Began playing guitar in Greenwich Village clubs, New York City, early 1960s; made professional debut at the Retort Coffee House, Detroit, 1963; discovered at Gerdes Folk City; signed with RCA Records, 1964, and recorded first single, Everybody Do the Click, and first album The Voice and Guitar of José Feliciano. Author of an autobiography.

Awards: Grammy awards for best new artist, 1968; best contemporary male pop vocal performance, 1968, for Light My Fire; and best Latin pop performance, 1983, for Me Enamore; 1986, for Lelolai; 1989, for Ceilito Lindo; and 1990, for Por Que Te Tengo Que Olvidar. Latin Music Expo Lifetime Achievement Award, 1991; numerous gold and platinum albums.

Addresses: Home Fairfield County, CT. Management L.A. Clip Productions, 4211 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Ste. 203, Studio City, CA, 91604.

U.S. charts, Feliciano played to an audience of 100,000 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

RCA began marketing Feliciano to the English-speaking audiences of England and the U.S. in 1968, when he released his version of the Doors 1967 hit Light My Fire. His reworking of the now-classic tune peaked at Number Three on the U.S. pop music charts, selling over a million records and making the singer a celebrity overnight. Feliciano received two Grammy Awards for Light My Fire, one for best new artist of 1968 and one for best contemporary pop vocal performance. Feliciano!, the 1968 album that featured Light My Fire, was just as successful, reaching Number Two and earning the guitarist his first gold album.

Although that release was largely composed of songs written and previously recorded by other musicians, Feliciano was able to established himself as an important artist by radically redefining the music that he recorded. Both the Latin influence in his style and his facility with the acoustic guitar greatly altered the quality of songs that, like Light My Fire, were originally recorded by rock bands using electric instruments. Of that song, Rock Movers & Shakers explained, Its slowed-down, sparse acoustic-with-woodwind arrangement and soul-inflected vocal defines Felicianos style. Feliciano! also garnered the unique honor, according to Thomas ONeil, author of The Grammys, of becoming a favorite make out album among teenagers.

Just a Musician

Following the success of Feliciano!, its namesake went on tour in both the United States and England, displaying his talents as a guitarist and as a singer who could cover a variety of musical styles. At the time, he told Melody Makers Alan Walsh, Im just a musician. . . . Not a pop musician or a jazz musician; just a musician. I play guitar but I also regard my voice as an instrument. I dont really like to be placed into a compartment and type-cast because Id like to work on all levels of music.

Despite all the accolades, Felicianos 1968 success was sometimes coupled with conflict. During a series of well-attended dates in England, the blind performer ran afoul of British quarantine laws about pets: Felicianos seeing-eye dog could not enter the country. It was a problem for the musician not only because he needed the dog for navigation, but also because she had become something of his trademark onstage; the helpful canine led the signer to his stool in the center of the stage at the beginning of each performance and returned to the stage to bow with him at the end. Feliciano did not return to England for several years.

Invited to sing The Star-Spangled Banner at the fifth game of the 1968 World Series at Detroits Tiger Stadium, Felicianos disturbed many of his more conventional listeners with what the Detroit Free Press later called his tear-wrenching, soul-stirring and controversial rendition. He was booed during the performance and received critical press for months to follow. The offending interpretation, according to the New York Times, was simply a matter of style: His rendition was done in a slower beat, similar to a blend between soul and folk singing styles. He accompanied himself on the guitar. The Times nonetheless quoted one listener as having responded, Im young enough to understand it, but I think it stunk.... It was nonpatriotic. Another commented, It was a disgrace, an insult.... Im going to write to my Senator about it.

Later Success Limited to Spanish Market

Although Feliciano has continued to record and perform steadily since 1968, he never achieved the same popularity with a single or album that he did that year. The album Souled hit Number 24 on the U.S. charts in 1969; also that year, Feliciano/10 to 23 reached Number 16 and earned the singer a second gold album. In the 1970s, Felicianos voice entered just about every American household when he recorded the theme song for the enormously popular television show Chico and the Man, in 1974, and Feliz Navidad (I Wanna Wish You a Merry Christmas), which has become a Christmas staple. These moments aside, however, the guitarist has not repeated the chart success that launched his career.

Numerous moves to different record labels and varying marketing strategies have failed to reignite Felicianos popularity with English-speaking audiences. In the mid-1970s, after about ten years of producing Spanish and English albums for RCA, Feliciano was signed briefly to the Private Stock label. When that company similarly failed to revive the interest of English-language audiences, Feliciano signed with Motown Latino, in 1980. He remained with Motown for several years but eventually made another switch, this time to EMI/Capitol, which by the early 1990s had developed a formidable Latin imprint.

Despite his relatively low profile in the U.S., Feliciano has had consistent international salesmore than enough to allow him and his family a comfortable life. He has earned 40 gold and platinum albums internationally. His series of recordings marketed for Spanish-speaking audiences in the 1980s garnered considerable acclaim, including Grammy awards for best Latin pop performance, in 1983, 1986, 1989, and 1990. In 1991, at the first annual Latin Music Expo, Feliciano was presented with the events first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the late 1980s, Feliciano began a family with Susan Omillion, whom he had met in 1971 and married in 1982; he had previously been married, in the 1960s, to Hilda Perez, the manager of one of the cafés where he had performed early in his career. In 1988, Melissa Anne Feliciano was born and in 1991, Jonathan José. Also in the 1990s, Felicianos old Harlem high school, Public School 155, was renamed the José Feliciano Performing Arts School.

Selected discography

The Voice and Guitar of José Feliciano, RCA, 1964.

Feliciano! (includes Light My Fire), RCA, 1968.

Feliciano/10 to 23, RCA, 1969.

Souled, RCA, 1969.

Fireworks, RCA, 1970.

José Feliciano (includes Feliz Navidad), RCA, 1971.

And the Feelings Good (includes Chico and the Man), RCA, 1974.

Sweet Soul Music, Private Stock, 1976.

José Feliciano, Motown, 1981.

Escenas de Amor, Motown Latino, 1983.

Me Enamore, Profono, 1983.

Te Amaré, RCA International, 1986.

Nina, Capitol/EMI Latin, 1990.

Latin Street 92, Capitol/EMI Latin 1992.

Sources

Books

The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, edited by Mike Clifford, Harmony Books, 1988.

ONeil, Thomas, The Grammys: For the Record, Penguin, 1993.

Rock Movers & Shakers, edited by Dafydd Rees and Luke Crampton, ABC/CLIO, 1991.

The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.

Periodicals

Billboard, September 7, 1991.

Detroit Free Press, May 28, 1993.

Down Beat, February 5, 1970.

Melody Maker, October 19, 1968; October 26, 1968.

New York Times, October 8, 1968.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from an L.A. Clip Productions press biography, 1992.

Ondine E. Le Blanc

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José Feliciano

José Feliciano

Singer and guitarist José Feliciano (born 1945) is one of the best known Hispanic entertainers in the United States and a major star in the Spanish-speaking world. His trademark is his furious guitar work and ability to re-invent rock classics with a Latin spin, as demonstrated in one of his biggest hits, "Light My Fire."

José Feliciano was born on September 10, 1945, in Lares, Puerto Rico. His large family was barely supported by their father's work as a farmer. By 1950, Feliciano's parents had relocated to a Latino section of New York City's Harlem, where his father found work as a longshoreman. By this time, the young Feliciano was already beginning to develop his enormous talent for music. According to his press biography, "His love affair with music began at the age of three, when he first accompanied his uncle on a tin cracker can." By the age of six, Feliciano had taught himself to play the concertina simply by listening to records and practicing. Later in his career, Feliciano would master the bass, banjo, mandolin, and various keyboard instruments. These accomplishments were more remarkable because he was visually impaired since birth.

Got Start in Coffee Houses

In his early teens, Feliciano discovered his instrument of choice: the acoustic guitar. Again, he taught himself to play simply by listening to records. The second of twelve children, Feliciano was blessed with a lucrative talent. By the age of 16, he was contributing to the family income by playing folk, flamenco, and pop guitar on the Greenwich Village coffeehouse circuit. At a time when his father was out of work, 17-year-old Feliciano quit school in order to perform full-time. He played his first professional show in 1963 at the Retort Coffee House in Detroit.

Back in New York, Feliciano was heard at Gerde's Folk City by an RCA Records executive, who quickly arranged a recording contract for the young singer. His first album, The Voice and Guitar of Jose Feliciano, and single, "Everybody Do the Click," were produced in English in 1964, but failed to make it onto the U.S. music charts. The album, however, was well received by disc jockeys; it was played regularly on their radio stations. In his first years with RCA, Feliciano's producers focused on his Puerto Rican background and marketed most of his albums to Latin American audiences; consequently, his name first became familiar to Spanish-speaking listeners. Indeed, as early as 1966, Feliciano played to an audience of 100,000 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Sparked Career with "Light My Fire"

RCA began marketing Feliciano to the English-speaking audiences of England and the U.S. in 1968, when he released his version of the Doors' 1967 hit, "Light My Fire." His reworking of the now-classic tune peaked at number three on the U.S. pop music charts, selling over a million records and making the singer a celebrity overnight. Feliciano received two Grammy Awards for "Light My Fire," one for best new artist of 1968 and one for best contemporary pop vocal performance. Feliciano!, the 1968 album that featured "Light My Fire," was just as successful, earning the guitarist his first gold album.

Although that release was largely composed of songs written and previously recorded by other musicians, Feliciano was able to establish himself as an important artist by radically redefining the music that he recorded. Both the Latin influence in his style and his facility with the acoustic guitar greatly altered the quality of songs like "Light My Fire," that were originally recorded by rock bands using electric instruments. Of that song, Rock Movers and Shakers explained, "Its slowed-down, sparse acoustic-withwoodwind arrangement and soul-inflected vocal defines Feliciano's style." Feliciano! also garnered the unique honor, according to Thomas O'Neil, author of The Grammys, of becoming a favorite album among teenagers in the mood for romance.

Following the success of Feliciano!, its namesake went on tour in both the United States and England, displaying his talents as a guitarist and as a singer who could cover a variety of musical styles. At the time, he told Melody Maker's Alan Walsh, "I'm just a musician. … not a popmusician or a jazz musician; just a musician. I play guitar but I also regard my voice as an instrument. I don't really like to be placed into a compartment and type-cast because I'd like to work on all levels of music."

Despite all the accolades, Feliciano's 1968 success was sometimes coupled with conflict. During a series of well-attended dates in England, the blind performer ran afoul of British quarantine laws about pets: Feliciano's seeing-eye dog could not enter the country. It was a problem for the musician not only because he needed the dog for navigation, but also because she had become something of his trademark onstage. The helpful canine led the singer to the center of the stage at the beginning of each performance and returned to bow with him at the end. Feliciano did not return to England for several years.

Criticized for National Anthem Rendition

Invited to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the fifth game of the 1968 World Series at Detroit's Tiger Stadium, Feliciano's disturbed many of his more conventional listeners with what the Detroit Free Press called his "tear-wrenching, soul-stirring and controversial" rendition. He was booed during the performance and received critical press for months to follow. The offending interpretation, according to the New York Times, was simply a matter of style: "His rendition was done in a slower beat, similar to a blend between soul and folk singing styles. He accompanied himself on the guitar." Though later artists would offer unique renditions of the anthem that were accepted as artistic variations, Feliciano had been the first to alter the song, which infuriated many. The Times quoted one listener as having responded, "I'm young enough to understand it, but I think it stunk. … It was non-patriotic." Another commented, "It was a disgrace, an insult. … I'm going to write to my senator about it."

Feliciano later recalled the incident with regret. "I did it with good intentions and I did it with soul and feeling," he told Michael Mehle in the Denver Rocky Mountain News in 1998. "When it happened, people wouldn't play me on the radio. They thought I was too controversial. After that, my life was not so good musically. … and I've been trying to dig my way back ever since." Feliciano continued to record and perform steadily since 1968, but never achieved the same level of popularity. The album Souled hit number 24 on the U.S. charts in 1969; also that year, Feliciano/10 to 23 reached number 16 and earned the singer a second gold album. A little later, however, Feliciano's voice entered just about every American household when he recorded the theme song for the enormously popular television show Chico and the Man, in 1974, and "Feliz Navidad (I Wanna Wish You a Merry Christmas)," which became a holiday staple.

Numerous moves to different record labels and varying marketing strategies failed to re-ignite Feliciano's popularity with English-speaking audiences. In the mid-1970s, after about ten years of producing Spanish and English albums for RCA, Feliciano was signed briefly to the Private Stock label. When that company similarly failed to revive the interest of English-language audiences, Feliciano signed with Motown Latino, in 1980. He remained with Motown for several years but eventually made another switch, this time to EMI/Capitol, which by the early 1990s had developed a formidable Latin imprint.

Still Acclaimed Despite Low Profile

Despite his relatively low profile in the U.S., Feliciano has enjoyed consistent international sales-more than enough to allow him and his family a comfortable life. He has earned 40 gold and platinum albums internationally. His series of recordings marketed for Spanish-speaking audiences in the 1980s garnered considerable acclaim, including Grammy awards for best Latin pop performance, in 1983, 1986, 1989, and 1990. In 1991, at the first annual Latin Music Expo, Feliciano was presented with the event's first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1998, he released the album Senor Bolero and completed a European tour.

In 1982, Feliciano married Susan Omillion, who had started a fan club for the singer in Detroit when she was 14 years old. This was a second marriage for Feliciano. His first wife was Hilda Perez, the manager of one of the cafes where he had performed in the 1960s. In 1988, the first of his children, Melissa Anne, was born; Jonathan José followed in 1991. The family purchased a renovated eighteenth-century inn and settled in the New York suburb of Weston, Connecticut. In his honor, the high school that Feliciano had attended in Harlem was renamed the Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School.

Further Reading

The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, edited by Mike Clifford, Harmony Books, 1988.

O'Neil, Thomas, The Grammys: For the Record, Penguin, 1993.

Rock Movers and Shakers, edited by Dafydd Rees and Luke Crampton, ABC/CLIO, 1991.

The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/ Summit Books, 1983.

Billboard, September 7, 1991.

Detroit Free Press, May 28, 1993.

Down Beat, February 5, 1970.

Independent on Sunday, June 21, 1998, p. 7.

L.A. Clips press biography.

Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1998, p. F1.

Melody Maker, October 19, 1968; October 26, 1968.

Newsday, August 9, 1995, p. A8.

New York Times, October 8, 1968.

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), December 13, 1998, p.3D. □

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"José Feliciano." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jose-feliciano