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José Feliciano Transcending Time & Space
By MICHELLE DE LA GUARDIA
March 25, 2001
With Benicio del Toro's Oscar victory, Jennifer López topping the box office and musical charts, and Ricky Martin's musical success in the United States, it is very common to hear about the "Latin boom" or "Latin explosion." However, we can't forget that one of the first Latin musicians to cross over into English-speaking markets came some 30 years before Jennifer or Ricky. This person, of course, was one of Puerto Rico's greatest glories, the multitalented José Feliciano.
This transcendental artist already has released more than 65 albums in more than 50 countries. Throughout his career, he has received 14 Grammy nominations and won six, and has achieved four gold and platinum records. It is thus, very exciting that this world-famous guitarist and composer visit[ed] his homeland, this time for a concert April 8 in the Bellas Artes Performing Arts Center in Santurce.
José Feliciano was born 56 years ago in Lares, and is said to have begun his musical career at the age of three by accompanying his uncle using a cracker tin can.
Later, at the early age of five, his family immigrated to New York, where he taught himself to play the guitar using nothing but records as his teacher. At 17, José was forced to quit school to help his family economically, earning money by playing his guitar in coffee houses and passing a hat. It was there that he was "discovered" and later signed with RCA Records. Since then, throughout the world, he has been declared as "the greatest living guitarist," earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and becoming the only performer in Grammy history to win pop music awards in two language categories.
A few milestone songs for José Feliciano include "Light My Fire," a remake of the hit by "The Doors" that became José's first musical success with English-speaking audiences. Feliciano added strings, conga drums, and a jazz flute and, within weeks, had both the album and single at the top of the music charts. Later, the song "Che será" made José Feliciano extremely popular in Europe, Asia, and South America. In addition, who can forget José's widely known Christmas single "Feliz navidad," which became a tradition worldwide, and is considered by the American Society of
Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) as one of the 25 greatest holiday songs of the century.
It is important to mention that José Feliciano was the first artist ever to publicly change the traditional way the U.S. national anthem was sung, when on Oct. 7, 1968, he added a slow soul-sounding style to it while performing at the World Series. This rendition caused a great deal of controversy and was even called "unpatriotic" and "a disgrace." However, Feliciano's version graced the top of the U.S. charts in 1969 and opened the door for many musicians to follow. Since José's historic performance, the national anthem rarely is performed in its traditional form.
José Feliciano always has been a very versatile and well-rounded artist. He says, "I'm 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 don't really like to be placed into a compartment and type-cast, because I'd like to work on all levels of music." José's philosophy is probably why he has ventured into so many different music styles, and has worked with such a varied array of artists, among them, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and the Backstreet Boys. Moreover, José has performed in a myriad of arenas, including singing in the White House for President Clinton and the Vatican for Pope John Paul II.
Still, this Billboard Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award winner hasn't let fame and fortune go to his head. Instead, he has become a great humanitarian and an "Ambassador of Good Will" throughout the world. He states: "I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that you have to be a good person. You have to give back to those people who are less fortunate. I think that's the most important thing you can learn as a performer . People who don't learn that will never be happy." For this reason, he often shares his talent and wealth with charity and worthy causes.
José Feliciano is obviously a humble artist who doesn't forget his modest beginnings. He declares: "I'll never forget where I came from, nor the people who helped my family or me along the way." Thus, on April 8, this gifted singer once again will pay a tribute to his roots, while taking the Bellas Artes audience on a 40-year journey through his musical career. Therefore, it is very possible he will delight his fans with his ever-popular songs: "Rain"; "Chico & the Man"; "California Dreamin'"; "Destiny"; "Affirmation"; "Ay cariño"; "Ponte a cantar"; "Cuando el amor se acaba"; "¿Porqué te tengo que olvidar?"; "Cielito lindo"; "Me enamoré"; and countless others.
On the other hand, José may surprise admirers with tunes from his upcoming recording, due out this year, entitled "Renaissance Man." This Universal Music production is part of a multialbum deal recently penned with José to record in both English and Spanish. This project will incorporate the help of José Feliciano's long-time friends, producers Rudy Pérez and Emilio Estefan. It is said José will write many of the songs in this production. It certainly would be a delight to José Feliciano's fanciers to get a first peek at his new work.
Once, when there were lighting problems at one of José Feliciano's concerts, he commented: "We should have bands composed of blind musicians. Then they could play in the dark." Instead, on April 8, Puerto Rico will have José Feliciano shining through and brightening the stage with his melodic voice and incomparable guitar.
It is sad the recent VH1 special on Latin artists failed to mention the name of this great Puerto Rican who broke through molds and stereotypes, laying the groundwork for many to come. José recently stated: "Latin music has lasted many, many years. This isn't the only boom that it has had. Latin music was even popular during Glen Miller's days so Latin music has been around and will be around, I think, for a long, long time." It is certain that with such talented Latin musicians as José Feliciano, the Latin craze is here to stay.