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Tonight and January 24th at 8pm, world-renowned musician Jose Feliciano will be performing with special guest DJ Sound Culture at City Winery. Even if you don’t recognize his name, you are probably familiar with some of Feliciano’s work, including the holiday staple “Feliz Navidad.”

Born permanently blind as a result of congenital glaucoma in Puerto Rico in 1945, Feliciano moved with his family to New York City at the age of 5. He began playing instruments at the age of 3, and received his first guitar at age 9. Prior to any classical training, Feliciano taught himself to play simply by listening to records and practicing relentlessly. After his father lost work, Feliciano dropped out of high school to perform in clubs full-time in order to contribute to the family income. Shortly thereafter, he was noticed by an RCA executive and promptly signed to a record deal. The record company used Feliciano’s Puerto Rican background to market him to Latin American audiences, where he quickly became widely embraced. The musician gained popularity in English-speaking countries in 1968 after the release of his rendition of The Doors’ hit “Light My Fire.” His take on the song, along with the record on which it was released, proved wildly successful. The guitarist earned his first gold album, and he was awarded two Grammys for his efforts, including Best New Artist.

On the heels of his overnight emergence into international stardom, Feliciano received an invitation to perform the national anthem during Game 5 of the 1968 World Series in Detroit. Accompanying himself on the guitar, Feliciano re-fashioned “The Star-Spangled Banner,” stirring controversy amongst listeners. Paved with good intentions, his slower, more soulful variation enraged many fans. Those offended considered his re-working of the anthem to be “non-patriotic” and “insulting.” The resulting fallout from the incident would hang like a black cloud over the rest of Feliciano’s career. Although the musician has since garnered numerous honors and awards, he never regained the widespread popularity he once enjoyed prior to the 1968 World Series game. Feliciano’s rendition of the national anthem is still considered to have been the first time an artist publicly altered the song. His stylized performance ultimately laid the way for cultural acceptance of artistic variations of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which we are so accustomed to today.

Over the years, Feliciano has flown under the radar, tacitly accumulating myriad accolades and maintaining critical acclaim. The musical pioneer has earned over 45 gold and platinum records, and has been nominated for 19 Grammys, amassing 9 wins to date. Among the extensive list of other forms of professional recognition for his work are several Lifetime Achievement Awards, including the prestigious bestowal from Billboard Magazine. Feliciano’s musical and humanitarian work has also led to a high school being renamed in his honor, a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame, honorary academic degrees, and much more. Jose Feliciano has even been touted as “the greatest living guitarist” and “The Picasso of His Realm.” The groundbreaking virtuoso is credited as the first Latin artist to successfully crossover into the English-speaking market, forging pathways for subsequent artists to follow his blazing trail.

Nathan Sullivan

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