Feliciano was a forerunner of change
Jose Feliciano doesn’t have sight, but America has seen a lot of changes since the guitarist first appeared on the national stage.
Known as the first Latin artist to achieve mainstream success in the United States, Feliciano has recorded at least 55 albums, dedicating his work to cultural diversity and mutual acceptance.
This week Feliciano had more to celebrate than his Latin Grammy Award nomination. Speaking on his cell phone Monday night from a Houston restaurant, the 63-year-old said he was thrilled to have a black man elected president of the United States.
“It was a long time coming,” he said. “It shows America has taken a giant step and is leaving the past behind.”
Feliciano was nominated for Best Contemporary Tropical Music Album for “Senor Bachata.” The ninth Latin Grammy Awards are Thursday, Nov. 13, after Lake Tahoe Action’s press time.
A commercial success since the mid-1960s, Feliciano paved the way for advancements in the U.S. by Latin artists like Gloria Esteban, Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, Manå, Julietta Venegas, Manual Chao and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
“I opened the doors for other Latin artists and I’m thrilled about it,” Feliciano said.
“But Ritchie Valens had the hit ‘La Bamba’ in 1958. You have to give (him) his due. I’m very glad for all of the Latin artists.”
Feliciano said his voice was palatable to American ears because, being raised in New York, he had no Spanish accent.
Born blind with congenital glaucoma in Puerto Rico, Feliciano moved to New York with his family at the age of 5. He taught himself guitar by listening to rock ‘n’ roll in its genesis in the 1950s. Sometimes he practiced in his room for 14 hours. By 1963 he was playing in Greenwich Village clubs alongside Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.
After performing at the Festival de Mar del Plata in Argentina, Feliciano was asked to make a record in Spanish. He became an international star. However, it was still a different time. For example, Feliciano was not allowed to enter London because he had a guide dog. Moreover, he created quite a stir at the World Series.
Feliciano has a penchant for taking a unique approach to songs, most notably the Doors’ “Light My Fire.”
It was during the Vietnam War, after the assassination of Martin Luther King and before that of Robert F. Kennedy, that Feliciano was asked to perform the “Star Spangled Banner” in Tiger Stadium before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series.
Feliciano played the song accompanied by his acoustic guitar in left field before 54,000 spectators and a national television audience. It was the first time the national anthem had been played in a nontraditional fashion and conservative America was outraged.
“The song caused controversy because it was the first time anyone sang it in a soulful manner,” Feliciano said.
Nevertheless, others understood Feliciano’s heartfelt rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which was released as a single. (Hear the song on josefeliciano.com.) It was on the billboard charts for five weeks. Ten months after the Tigers won the World Series, Jimi Hendrix played his own version of the national anthem at Woodstock.
The year 1968 also delivered Feliciano the first of six U.S. Grammy Awards.
He has numerous achievements:
” Called the best pop guitarist five years in a row by Guitar Player magazine in the jazz, classic and rock categories.
n Recorded the theme song for the TV program “Chico and The Man,” where he had a recurring role. Also recorded and appeared on “McMillan & Wife” and “Kung Fu.”
” Recorded albums with John Lennon, Bill Withers, Gloria Esteban and Natalie Cole.
” Played his song “Let’s Find Each Other Tonight” in the 1996 movie “Fargo.” While trying to impress his escort service date, actor Steve Buscemi famously said, “You know, Jose Feliciano, ‘ya’ got no complaints.”
” Has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Walk of Fame in Puerto Rico.
” Has a New York public school named after him.
Feliciano said his next project will be a Spanish rock ‘n’ roll album.
He said he will play his best-known song at his Lake Tahoe show.
“Come November, everybody wants to hear ‘Feliz Navidad,’ ” he said. “I am looking forward to coming back to Tahoe. I had a long association with Bill Harrah which went back to the late 1960s and ’70s.”
Who: Jose Feliciano
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15
Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
Tickets: $40 plus fees
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