Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, on September 10, 1945. Left permanently blind at birth as a result of congenitalglaucoma, Feliciano was first exposed to music at age three and would play on a tin cracker can while accompanying his uncle playing the Cuatro. When he was five, his family moved to Spanish Harlem, New York City, and at age nine, he played the Teatro Puerto Rico in the Bronx. He started his musical life playing the accordion until his father and family friend, Benjamin Borges, gave him his first guitar in a brown paper bag. He played every chance he had by himself in his room for up to 14 hours a day listening to 1950s rock'n'roll records, 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 of Segovia.
At 17, he quit school to play in clubs, having his first professional, contracted performance in Detroit.
In 1963, after some live performances in pubs and clubs around the USA and Canada, especially in Greenwich Village in New York City, and Vancouver, BC, where he played at the same time as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, he was signed by Jack Somer, an executive 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" (then lately in 1969 become a Netherland Top10 Hit on the charts), 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. Also he was guest on popular British Tv show with Dusty Springfield, recorded a rare single for UK RCA called "My Foolish Heart / Only Once" who was played on London radios and June 4, 1967 in Speakeasy, London, during the Jose Feliciano concert Jimi Hendrix jams with him
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 Harry 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 in the US market alone. However the song became a #1 hit in many countries, including Canada, Brazil, and the UK, and was awarded a gold disc. 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 and gave to him a worldwide pop star status and popular recognition as a lead musician like crossover from latin music and english pop rock and as a first virtuoso classical guitarist to bring nylon string guitar in the pop rock scene.
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. In 1969 working with Quincy Joneson Mackenna's Gold movie soundtrack recorded popular theme song Old Turkey buzzard and appears on numerous US Tv show where make duets with Frank Sinatra, johnny Cash, Bing Crosby, Glenn Campbell, Andy Williams, Diana Ross etc Under pseudonim of Werbley Finster in 1969 recorded a single So Long Paul about rumors of Paul McCartney's death
In 1970, he wrote and released an album of Christmas music, Feliz Navidad. 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.. 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 and make concerts with Carlos Santana, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon. In 1975, in his last RCA albumJust Wanna Rock'n'Roll he released his well known jazz-funk-latin instrumental composition "Affirmation," which was released one year later by jazz guitarist George Benson in his hit album "Breezin'."
In early 1974 he played in Prague Czechoslovakia, sharing the stage with Czech idol Karel Gott. Feliciano was one of the very few western pop stars who was able to stradle the west and the iron curtain countries.
1980s to present
During the 1980s, after a brief attempt for a english album produced directly by Berry Gordy (Jose was guest also on famous 1983 Cbs Tv show Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever), record companies gave him space made only for the Latin market, and he recorded an impressive number of hit albums for that market, including the Motown albumsEscenas de Amor and Me Enamoré, as well as others from RCA, EMI, and Capitol which added four more Grammys for best Latin performer. He recorded a duet called "Por ella" with the most popular Mexican singer at the time: José José and become a latin Hit. Even on 80s and 90s He recorded duet with Natalie Cole's Everlasting, Gloria Estefan's Alma Caribena and again, in 1985, with Jazz singer Diane Schuur on his album "Schuur Things" and with Paul Simon in a particular version of his album Songs from The Capeman He received a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987, and continued as a very popular singer during the 1980s. He had his hands cast on the famousMadame Tussauds Museum's Wall of Fame, and has a star in the Walk of Fame of his native Puerto Rico. He also had a great hit in 1987 in Austria with the song "The Sound of Vienna", number 1 for four weeks and recorded with the famous Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra also performed with him live on national television at Danube Park in Vienna before more than 60,000 people.
In 1994, Feliciano recorded a dance record in English entitled "Goin' Krazy" (MJM Records) under the pseudonym JR. Latino DJs around the world supported the record helping the 12" dance record chart on Billboard and earning him new and younger fans.
In 1995, Feliciano was honored by the City of New York, which renamed Public School 155 the Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School. In 1996, he had a short cameo role in the film Fargo.
Feliciano was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.
Feliciano performed the theme song, "Behind the Mask," for the TV series Queen of Swords in 2000. A promotional video sung in Spanish but never published is on YouTube, and the full English version, never published, sung by Feliciano and the composers Spencer Proffer and Steve Plunkett is also on YouTube.
In 2003 Guitarra Mía, a special tribute to Feliciano, was produced by the Banco Popular de Puerto Rico and aired in Puerto Rico and in cities with large Puerto Rican population in the United States. This television special (and its soundtrack) featured Feliciano and many Puerto Rican and international stars singing some of his most famous songs, along with his personal favorites from other artists. It was first aired in December 2003, just two days after his mother died unexpectedly from a heart attack; in an eerie coincidence, the special's last scenes featured her giving her son a standing ovation, recorded for the occasion a month before.
On December 6, 2006, Feliciano's new Spanish album, José Feliciano y amigos was released by Universal Records, featuring Feliciano joined in duets with many other Latin American stars including Luis Fonsi, Lupillo Rivera, Luciano Pereyra, Rudy Pérez, Cristian Castro, Marc Anthony, Ramón Ayala, Alicia Villarreal, Ricardo Montaner, and Raúl di Blasio. A special edition was later released and featured Ana Gabriel and Gloria Estefan.
In 2007, Feliciano released an album called Soundtrack of My Life, the first English-language album composed and written by him.
In 2009, after winning his 8th Grammy for the album Senor Bolero, he left Siente music and released two new English-language albums for digital download only from his personal websites, one dedicated to American Classics, including songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, and the other dedicated to an instrumental album in homage to jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt who inspired Feliciano, and features Feliciano's song "Djangoisms." A single from the Kumbia All Starz features him and the internationally famous Tejano band, Los Dinos, which was released April 28, 2010.
On May 10, 2010, Feliciano performed his rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner", 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.
On December 15, 2010, Feliciano appeared as the featured guest on the 37th wepisode of Daryl Hall's Webbie-Award winning webcast, Live From Daryl's House, www.livefromdarylshouse.com. Feliciano and Hall took turns on several numbers, including Felicano's version of "Light My Fire." On November 9, 2011, Feliciano received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
Feliciano and his wife Susan have three children: daughter Melissa and sons Jonathan and Michael. Susan was raised in Detroit and met Ernie Harwell during the controversy over Feliciano's rendition of the national anthem in 1968. Harwell later introduced her to Feliciano.
Sense of humor
Besides his musical skills, Feliciano is known for his strong sense of humor. He constantly makes fun of people's reactions to his blindness, and has even played practical jokes on friends and family based on this. Once his then bass player, Ted Arnold, contrived to allow Feliciano to appear to be driving down a busy street, fooling the passing police. During a show he once said, "I was going to dedicate this next song [Zorba The Greek] to Howard Hughes but I can't see him!" He then dedicated it to Jacqueline Onassis.
He has performed comedy sketches alongside Freddie Prinze, Sunshine Logroño, and the staff of Despierta América and Verónica Castro, among others. He has also parodied fellow artists in his concerts, including Julio Iglesias, Raphael, Rocío Jurado and Isabel Pantoja. An occasional song at his Spanish concerts is a parody of Bobby Capó's song "El Bardo". While the Right Said Fred song "I'm Too Sexy" was popular in the early 1990s, Feliciano closed his English concerts with a parody of it.
His performance of "Old Turkey Buzzard" became a recurring bit on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2007, until Feliciano himself appeared on the show on October 16 of that year to perform a live rendition of the song.
In December 2009 a parody of Feliz Navidad entitled "The Illegal Alien Christmas Song" was created by radio producers Matt Fox and A.J. Rice and posted on the website for Human Events, a Washington-based conservative weekly publication. The parody, sung in English, played on the stereotype of Latino immigrants as heavy drinkers and that undocumented immigrants were going to "spread bubonic plague".
Feliciano released a statement on December 23 on his official website:
"This song has always been a bridge to the cultures that are so dear to me, never as a vehicle for a political platform of racism and hate. It’s disgusting and my only wish that my song and I are distanced from the whole affair as soon as possible."
In a statement to the Associated Press the same day, Jed Babbin, Human Events' site editor, apologized for "any offense that Mr. Feliciano may have taken from this parody" and removed it from the site.