Ask anyone to name a Spanish Christmas song and the first one that comes to mind will undoubtedly be “Feliz Navidad” by the great José Feliciano. And if you’re asking one of his many devoted fans, they’ll be sure to tell you that his music career and discography are so much deeper than that. He’ll be showcasing the best of his incredible repertoire at a special concert at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, October 23 at 8 p.m.
Although Feliciano was born blind in Puerto Rico in 1945, he quickly proved that he wouldn’t let anything hold him back from greatness. After moving to Spanish Harlem at age 5, he taught himself how to play the accordion at age 7 and guitar at age 9. After gaining notoriety in the pub and coffee house scenes in the U.S. and Canada, he was discovered and signed by RCA Victor’s Jack Somer in 1963 and released his first single, “Everybody Do the Click,” the following year. His next hit singles were both Spanish bolero folk songs, “Poquita Fe” and “Usted,” which helped propel his music into Spanish-speaking homes across Latin and North America.
Feliciano’s albums and singles continued to perform fairly well leading up to the smash hit Feliciano! in 1968, which featured a Latin soul-infused cover of the Doors song “Light My Fire” that reached No.1 in several countries and No.3 on U.S. pop charts. That year, he won two Grammy Awards for Best New Artist of the Year and Best Pop Male Performance.
While recording his debut Christmas cover album in 1970, RCA Victor producer Rick Jarrard suggested the unthinkable: Write an original holiday song to include among an album of timeless classics. Pulling from his memories of Puerto Rico, he wrote “Feliz Navidad,” hoping it might serve as a bridge between cultures. It did more than that. The track is now one of the 25 most played Christmas songs in the world and has earned its place in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
He would then go on to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987 and a Grammy Legend Award in 2000. By 2009, he had won his seventh Grammy for his album Señor Bolero. Most recently, he debuted Behind This Guitar, his 56th studio album to date, last year. Now, he looks forward to bringing his iconic Latin blues rock sound to Westhampton Beach.
What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming performance in Westhampton Beach?
It’s going to be so good just being “back,” singing and playing my guitar — what I’ve done all my life — and sharing my music while being with people again. I’ve missed that so much, I can’t tell you.
Have you ever performed in or visited the Hamptons before?
Oh, yes! I have friends in the Hamptons and played there before, as well.
What songs do you plan to perform for the WHBPAC audience?
I’m looking forward to getting into my “box of goodies” and playing some of our old favorites, some new favorites and maybe something you’ve not heard yet before. I don’t know. It’ll just be great.
What kind of experience or feeling do you hope to give the audience?
Aww man, just that we’re back! That we’ve made it — not without trial and hardship, because we’ve all suffered greatly over the past year and a half — but that ultimately, our hardships will never define us. Ever.
What music or other projects have you been working on since the release of Behind This Guitar in 2020?
We’ve been working on a documentary of my life story, Behind This Guitar; it was to have premiered in March 2020, but now I’m waiting to hear the latest on that. We also have been working on a book of my life (so far!), my wife Susan and I, so that’s getting close.
We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of (the album) Feliz Navidad, called FN-50, with a children’s book, new single and music video with 30 artists from around the world, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michael Bolton, Julio Iglesias Jr., Big & Rich and, oh my gosh, so many other amazing artists — all such good people.
Finally, I just released a single from the Behind This Guitar, “Deluxe,” which will be released in November with our duet with Dolly Parton, a song titled “Eagle When She Flies” — and touring, of course. Who knows what else?
Where do you find the inspiration for new music and has that source changed throughout your career?
Not to give you a short answer, but I find my inspiration in everything, everywhere.
How did your upbringing and life experiences shape who you became as a musical icon?
Hey, you know, I just always and still do, get up every morning, knowing God’s in charge and do my best in everything I try to do — that’s it, really.
What career accolade or achievement are you most proud of?
Aw, geez, those moments of accolade or achievement are all my babies, and I love them all equally. I really do.
What do you find most personally rewarding about your career?
I love hearing that I bring joy into people’s lives. Seriously, for me, what could be better than that?
Would you like to share any closing thoughts?
I’m glad we’re back, and I thank you all for being there for me and with me along the way.
For tickets to José Feliciano’s WHBPAC concert on Saturday, October 23 at 8 p.m., visit whbpac.org.