Feliciano, José (1945—)

views updated

Feliciano, José (1945—)

José Feliciano is one of the most passionate balladeers and guitar virtuosos on the popular music scene. Because of his bilingual abilities, Feliciano has achieved popularity throughout the Americas where his English and Spanish language albums have often topped the charts. His 1968 Feliciano! is today considered a classic as is his number one hit single "Light My Fire."

Born the second of twelve children on September 10, 1945, in Puerto Rico, Feliciano was raised on the Lower East Side of New York City. Feliciano was born blind from congenital glaucoma, but nevertheless was a musical prodigy who by age six was playing instruments. Today, he is known to perform credibly not only on his

favorite, the guitar, but also on the bass, banjo, organ, mandolin, harmonica, piano, harpsichord, and several Afro-Caribbean percussion instruments. Because of his exposure to both Latin and American pop musical traditions, Feliciano developed an eclectic taste and style, and has been able to master folk, flamenco, salsa, rock guitar, and vocals. His folk-rock performances got him onto stages at the beginning of his career during his teens, in Greenwich Village cafes. At age 17, Feliciano dropped out of high school to become a professional musician, with his first road show booked at the Retort Coffee House in Detroit in 1963. He soon signed a recording contract with RCA Victor and became a frequent performer at coffees houses and night clubs around the country and in San Juan, Puerto Rico resort hotels.

Feliciano's first album, The Voice and Guitar of José Feliciano, appeared and went unnoticed in 1964, and both he and RCA experimented for the next few years in finding an appropriate niche for the eclectic singer and musician. In those years, the greatest success came with Feliciano's Spanish language recordings and his Latin American tours; in 1966, for instance, his concert in Buenos Aires drew an audience of 100,000. Finally in 1968, his album Feliciano!, which included the Doors' "Light My Fire," achieved mainstream success. "Light My Fire" became the third most popular single that year and Feliciano! reached number two on the album charts. To top this, Feliciano won Grammy awards for Best New Artist of 1968 and Best Contemporary Male Pop Vocal Performance for "Light My Fire."

After 1968, Feliciano has continued as a standard and recognized artist in both American and Latin pop music, but has never again achieved the popularity or success in the United States that he had that stellar year. One tune, however, has made Feliciano a seasonal staple—his bilingual classic "Feliz Navidad (I Wanna Wish You a Merry Christmas)." Feliciano has, however, remained enormously popular internationally, especially in Latin America and Europe. He has earned 40 international gold and platinum records and won Grammy awards for best Latin pop performance in 1983, 1986, 1989, and 1990.

In the mid-1970s, Feliciano left RCA and went on to record with a number of other houses. At times, his relationships with the studios have been rocky because the performer insists on his unique style and on "doing it my way." Feliciano's way has pioneered a place for intercultural musicians and opened up a new space for Hispanics in American pop culture.

—Nicolás Kanellos

Further Reading:

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton. Rock Movers and Shakers. Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 1991.

Rubiner, Julia M., editor. Contemporary Musicians. Detroit, Gale Research Inc., 1994.

Tardiff, Joseph T., and L. Mpho Mabunda, editors. Dictionary of Hispanic Biography. Detroit, Gale, 1996.