José Feliciano is a Puerto Rican singer-songwriter who is an influential figure in both English and Spanish-language pop music. He is best known for his bilingual holiday song “Feliz Navidad,” a bilingual holiday standard.
José Feliciano in New York City
José Feliciano Feliz Navidad plays Puerto Rican pop folk; at Sony Hall in the Times Square Theater District, Manhattan; on Saturday, December 23, 2023 at 8pm (6pm doors). From $55. sonyhall.com 🇵🇷 🎄
José Montserrate Feliciano Garcia was born in the mountain town of Lares, Puerto Rico on September 10, 1945. Born blind, the young boy’s musical talent showed as a toddler.
His family moved to New York City when he was five. He first taught himself to play the concertina accordion by listening to records. He went to school at PS 57 where he entertained his classmates. He also performed as a child at Teatro Puerto Rico which played roles in the careers of many great artists.
Inspired by 1950s rock and roll, Feliciano taught himself to play guitar and sing. As a teenager he quit school and started playing in Greenwich Village coffee houses and night clubs.
He got signed by RCA Records, and while touring in Mar de Plata, Argentina was encouraged to record, so he made a record of boleros he remembered from his childhood. That album had hits with “Poquita Fe,” and “Usted.” Feliciano became a teen idol.
“The Picasso of his Realm” was the first Latin artist to fully crossover into the English-language music market. In Los Angeles, he recorded a cover of the Doors’ “Light My Fire.” which became a #1 global hit in 1968. The publisher has said that Feliciano’s version is one of the main reasons that song became a standard. José’s stylized performance of the U.S. National Anthem in 1968 forever changed the way the song is sung. “Feliz Navidad” came in 1970. he had another big hit with “Che Sará” in 1971.
Feliciano fit into the folk music boom of the 1960s-70s which was led by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and others. The Cuban trova tradition, from which Cuban bolero derives, is basically a folk music tradition. You can tie that back to the European troubadours, West African griots, and Indigenous storytellers. The Puerto Rican form is trovadores. We still have trovadores in the mountains of Puerto Rico. They hold musical and vocal improvisation competitions that are a lot like rap battles.
Fame opened doors for Feliciano to do film and television scores and acting work. He wrote the theme song for “Chico and the Man,” and acted in the television shows “McMillan & Wife,” and “Kung Fu.”
He has nine Grammys from nineteen nominations, including a “LARAS Award for Lifetime Achievement,” and has often been recognized for the quality of his guitar playing.
José Feliciano is a great Puerto Rican and a great American. He just keeps going.
New York Venues
These are some New York venues where he has played recently.
- Lehman Center
- Sony Hall