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Reno Gazette-Journal

Feliciano Found Success In 2 Languages

October 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Reno Gazette-Journal. All rights reserved. 

Among the more prominent Latin-born performers of the pop era, Jose Feliciano brings more than five decades' worth of work to Harrah's Lake Tahoe.

Feliciano was born Sept. 10, 1945, in Lares, Puerto Rico. The victim of congenital glaucoma, he was left blind at birth. Five years later, he and his family moved to New York City's Spanish Harlem, where Feliciano began learning the accordion, later taking up the guitar and making his first public appearance at age 9.

While in high school, he became a fixture of the Greenwich Village coffeehouse circuit, eventually quitting school in 1962 in order to accept a permanent gig in Detroit. A contract with RCA followed a performance at New York's Gerde's Folk City, and within two years he appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival.

After debuting with the 1964 novelty single "Everybody Do the Click," he issued his flamenco-flavored album "The Voice and Guitar of Jose Feliciano," followed up early the next year by "The Fantastic Feliciano." Unhappy with the direction of his music following the release of 1966's "A Bag Full of Soul," Feliciano returned to his roots, releasing three consecutive Spanish-language albums - "Sombras ...Una Voz," "Una Guitarra, Mas Exitos de Jose Feliciano" and "El Sentimiento, La Voz y La Guitarra de Jose Feliciano" - on RCA International. He scored on the Latin pop charts with the singles "La Copa Rota" and "Amor Gitana."

With 1968's "Feliciano!," he scored a hit with a cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire" that launched him into mainstream pop. A cover of Tommy Tucker's R&B tune "Hi Heel Sneakers" solidified his success, and soon Feliciano found himself performing the national anthem during the 1968 World Series.

His Latin-jazz performance of the song proved highly controversial. Despite the outcry of traditionalists and nationalists, his status as an emerging counterculture figure was secured, with a single of his rendition also becoming a hit.

In 1969, Feliciano recorded three albums - "Souled," "Alive Alive-O" and "Feliciano 10 to 23" - and won a Grammy for Best New Artist.

However, he never again reached the success of "Light My Fire," and only the theme song to the sitcom "Chico and the Man" flirted with hit status , edging into the Top 100 singles chart in 1974. His song, "Feliz Navidad," is a Christmas staple.

Throughout the 1970s Feliciano remained an active performer, however, touring annually and issuing a number of records in both English and Spanish, including 1973's "Compartments." He also appeared on the Joni Mitchell hit, "Free Man in Paris," and made appearances on a number of television series, including "Kung Fu" and "McMillan and Wife." In 1996, he also appeared briefly in the film "Fargo."

In 1980, Feliciano was the first performer signed to the new Latin division of Motown, making his label debut with an eponymous effort the following year. His recordings tapered off during the course of the decade, although he occasionally resurfaced with albums, including 1987's "Tu Immenso Amor" and 1989's "I'm Never Gonna Change." He continued recording in the 1990s, releasing albums such as 1996's "Present Tense" and 1997's "On Second Thought."

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