Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
It’s been 50 yrs because José Feliciano came up with the seasonal earworm “Feliz Navidad.” The tune is just two phrases of getaway cheer, in Spanish and in English, recurring around and above for 3 minutes.
“Musically, it is simplistic, but that isn’t going to consider absent from the charm of the track at all,” states musician Bobby Sanabria, co-director of the Bronx Audio Heritage Centre. “‘Feliz Navidad’s one particular of those people variety of tracks that, like ‘Happy Birthday,’ it truly is very, pretty iconic. And any one can sing it.”
Now, on the anniversary of a song that became a bilingual landmark, Feliciano is celebrating with a new recording, a new kid’s book and a livestreamed live performance on Dec. 20. For the new variation of “Feliz Navidad,” he sang with 30 of his close friends, which include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jason Mraz, Gloria Gaynor and Linda Viero Caballero, far better recognised as La India.
“It was an honor and privilege to sing for José,” La India suggests from her home in Puerto Rico. “He’s just an wonderful improviser. Anyone has always been so very pleased of José, ’cause he under no circumstances abandoned the Latin lifestyle.”
Feliciano remembers producing “Feliz Navidad” at RCA’s in Los Angeles in 1970: “We failed to want to place out a schmaltzy Christmas album. So we made the decision to do it in a different way.”
He sang bilingually, played the guitar and also the cuatro, a 10-stringed instrument his uncle taught him again in Puerto Rico.
“There experienced been other Christmas music that were bilingual,” he recalls. “For instance, there was a tune by Hugo Rios, ‘Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus?’ But ‘Feliz Navidad’ was an entity unto itself. It was expressing the pleasure that I felt on Christmas and the simple fact that I felt extremely lonely. I missed my relatives, I missed Xmas carols with them. I missed the total Christmas scene.”
Caught in an L.A. studio, Feliciano claims he pined for his 11 brothers and their overall prolonged household, countless numbers of miles away. They had constantly celebrated Noche Buena, Xmas Eve, eating pasteles and lechon, and drinking rum. They went caroling in parrandas. Of training course, he failed to sing about any of this explicitly in “Feliz Navidad.” But he says that’s the emotion behind the music.
Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, 75 a long time ago. He was just 3 when he started out enjoying the ukulele. Right after his family members moved to New York, he discovered to enjoy classical guitar, encouraged by Andres Segovia. By 15, he was enjoying in coffee houses and folk new music golf equipment in Greenwich Village. That’s in which a document government noticed him.
Feliciano says RCA failed to want to indication him at initially “simply because they didn’t know what to do with me.” So he went to Argentina, in which he additional jazz and R&B to boleros, ballads he carried out at the Mar del Plata Pageant. When he acquired back again to New York, he read again from RCA — “saying hey, you gotta go back again to Argentina, you happen to be hotter than a pistol about there.”
RCA recorded various albums of his boleros, which include “Poquita Fe” and “Usted.” Then, in 1968, the label unveiled his version of “California Dreamin’ ” by The Mamas and the Papas, in which he played his flamenco guitar and improvised en Español. “That was spontaneous,” he says. “I didn’t prepare to sing in Spanish, but I considered, you know, this feels really great. Let me permit me do this.”
On the flip aspect of that solitary was Feliciano’s version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which became his most important strike. Feliciano says he had preferred to report that tune for Motown. “Dick Clark asked me, he mentioned, ‘Why did you want to be on Motown Data? Which is a Black label,'” Feliciano recollects. “Effectively, the way I saw lifetime, I in no way recognized that persons noticed colors in a different way. I was hardly ever prejudice[d]. And which is one matter I appreciated about remaining blind.”
That identical 12 months, 1968, Feliciano received the Grammy for finest new artist, and he done the countrywide anthem at the Planet Collection. As constantly, he sang it his way, with a contact of R&B and soul. But quite a few in the stands booed.
“He played it additional negro, more Black. Back then, people were not prepared,” musician Carlos Santana claims in the new documentary Jose Feliciano: Powering This Guitar.
“It was a unique time in America,” producer Rudy Perez says in the film. “There was a great deal of ignorance — ‘This Puerto Rican Latino has messed with our nationwide anthem.’ He is thinking, 250 million people despise me.”
Feliciano informed NPR his stylized interpretation price him. “I had to depart The usa and participate in in other nations since I was not having any radio participate in soon after I did ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.'” But for fellow Nuyoricans — New York Puerto Ricans, like Bobby Sanabria — Feliciano was a hero.
“Now every person sings it that way, with some soul,” Sanabria suggests. “That was a brave point he did. Not only was he Puertoriqueño, not only was he young, not only was he hip, but he was anti-establishment.”
Feliciano went on to report a lot of far more albums, as perfectly as the topic song for the 1970s sitcom Chico and the Guy. The singer now life in Connecticut, and suggests he was thrilled when Quentin Tarantino utilised his variation of “California Dreamin’ ” on the soundtrack of his Oscar-winning film As soon as Upon a Time … in Hollywood final 12 months. But extra than anything, Feliciano are unable to get about the simple fact that the straightforward Xmas track he wrote 50 % a century back has endured.
“You guess your sweet bippy,” he suggests. “I am continue to amazed.”