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Jose Feliciano's forte lies in his ability to perform in two languages
A. GEORGE ANTONY
20 November 2004
JOSE FELICIANO'S rendition of "Old Turkey Buzzard", reached a crescendo in under three minutes. Even after three decades, the Quincy Jones classic continues to haunt listeners, just as MacKenna's Gold, the movie masterpiece it adorned, remains a timeless favourite.
Feliciano was born blind, the second of 12 children to a poor farmer in Lares, Puerto Rico. The family migrated to the Spanish Harlem section of New York, where Jose picked up the nuances of the accordion and guitar as a child. He dropped out of school when 17 and did the rounds of coffee houses in and around Greenwich Village and Gerde's Folk City. Most of his releases were initially in Spanish, a turnout at his Buenos Aires concert in 1966 touching a lakh.
Everybody do the Click was his first single and album, followed by The Voice and Guitar of Jose Feliciano and an appearance at the Newport folk festival. His Latin version of the Doors' "Light my Fire", backed by jazz bassist Ray Brown, scaled the charts, almost equalling the original and going gold, as did Feliciano subsequently.
Traditionalists didn't take too kindly to the Flamenco form Feliciano gave the "Star Spangled Banner", at the 1968 baseball world series. He also won the Best New Artist Grammy that year. The Seventies saw him team up with Joni Mitchell on Free Man in Paris and his theme for the television series Chico And The Man found its way to the charts too.
Although he had only three gold albums in the U.S., over 40 gold and platinum citations came from around the world, recording nearly as many Spanish records as in English and winning Grammys in both language categories. In his honour, a Harlem school was rechristened the Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School. He had a short tryst with the movies, making a brief appearance in the 1995 film Fargo and a foray into jazz as well. Besides the guitar, Feliciano plays the mandolin, harmonica, banjo and keyboards, touring extensively to this day.