Visual impairment : Blind since birth
Jose was born blind on account of congenital glaucoma, to humble beginnings on September 10, 1945, in Lares, Puerto Rico. One of eleven boys, his love affair with music began at the age of three when he first accompanied his uncle on a tin cracker can. When he was five, his family immigrated to New York City . Young Jose learned to play the concertina at age six, using a handful of records as his teacher. At eight, he performed for his classmates at PS 57, and at nine, performed at The Puerto Rican Theatre. Wanting to venture beyond the accordion, he taught himself to play the guitar with undaunted determination and again, with nothing but records as his teacher for as many as 14 hours a day. Exposed to the Rock-n-Roll of the 50's, Jose was then inspired to sing.
At 17, Jose quit school. His father was not working at the time and he needed to help his family. He played coffee houses in Greenwich Village and for his salary – as was customary during that time period in small clubs – they'd "pass the hat". He played his first professional engagement that same year in Detroit . Shortly thereafter, a music critic writing of his performance at Gerde's Folk City referred to him as a "10-fingered wizard who romps, runs, rolls, picks and reverberates his six strings in an incomparable fashion." And added, "If you want to witness the birth of a star, catch Mr. Feliciano before he leaves tomorrow night."
Jose's first major break in the industry, however, happened in the Spanish market when, in 1966, after an amazing performance at the Mar del Plata Festival in Argentina, the RCA executives in Buenos Aires encouraged Jose to stay there and record an album of Spanish music. "They really didn't know what to do with me in the studio," Jose recalls. "So I suggested that we record a number of old boleros – songs I had heard from the time I was a kid." Feliciano's interpretation of the classic bolero of the time was revolutionary. Jose had taken long-time standards and made them brand new; he re-worked and re-fashioned them with his own style of acoustic guitar artistry and the vocal inflections of the jazz and American influences he had acquired during his adolescence.
Two more albums followed in similar fashion and the name Jose Feliciano was known all throughout South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. By the time he was 23, he had earned five Grammy nominations and won two Grammy Awards for his album "Feliciano!", had performed over much of the world, and had recorded songs in four languages. But Jose was not satisfied. He had a desire to expand his career to include acting and made a number of dramatic TV appearances.
One of Jose's most memorable moments came on December 1, 1987 when he joined other entertainment legends in having his star permanently implanted on the world renowned Hollywood Walk of Fame. Similarly, Jose has also been given a star on the Walk of Fame in his native Puerto Rico alongside Jose Ferrer and Raul Julia. Also, Jose had his hands cast for the world famous Wall of Fame in Madame Tussaud's in London, England . His 'hands' were displayed among artists such as Phil Collins, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Michael Jackson and The Backstreet Boys.
Feliciano earned his sixth Grammy Award in 1991 and is the only performer who has won pop music awards in two language categories. The local government of New York City has honoured Jose by re-naming Public School 155 in East Harlem , dedicating it as The Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School.
From a historical point of view, Jose was the first artist to ever stylise his country's National Anthem and perform it publicly.
Three songs that have been milestones for Feliciano are: 'Light My Fire', which was number one on the charts in 1968 and according to the song publisher, is now a 'standard' due to Jose's interpretation. 'Che Sera', a mega-success in Europe , Asia and South America and of course, 'Feliz Navidad', the Christmas song that has now become a tradition worldwide during the holiday season every year.
Being constantly in demand to appear all over the world, Jose has performed for and with some of the most important people on the planet. The end of 1994 brought one of Jose's greatest honors, an invitation to Rome to star on 'Christmas at the Vatican' and to have a private audience with Pope John Paul II.
He has also enjoyed playing with many top Symphony Orchestras including the London Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the famous Vienna Symphony. He has also appeared on major television shows worldwide and has done a number of his own television specials. Likewise, Jose has been part of many historic co-billed events and continues to share the stage with music and film legends and internationally renowned artists. Jose, along with Carlos Santana, joined Ricky Martin for his CBS Television Special, 'Ricky Martin Live' which first aired on November 26, 1999 .
Jose Feliciano has been acclaimed by critics throughout the world as the greatest living guitarist. Guitar Player Magazine has awarded him Best Pop Guitarist for five years running, and has placed him in their "Gallery of the Greats". Jose has been awarded over 45 Gold and Platinum records; has won 16 Grammy nominations –most recently for Señor Bolero in 1998 – earning six Grammy Awards and is in receipt of countless prestigious awards the world over. In 1996, Jose was selected to receive the honour of Billboard Magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award. In May, 2001, Jose Feliciano received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield , Connecticut , for his musical as well as humanitarian contributions to the world over the last 30+ years.
Feliciano's contributions to the music industry have been far reaching--spanning generations and continents while emphasizing cultural diversity and mutual acceptance, enhanced significantly by his unsurpassed musical integrity.
Jose's gifts of time, treasure and talent have earned him, over the years, the reputation of great humanitarian and 'Ambassador of Good Will', throughout the world. "I'll never forget where I came from, nor the people who helped my family or me along the way". For this reason, Jose will often lend a hand or his name in support of causes that he believes are important.
Feliciano and his wife, Susan, have been together since 1971. In 1988 they were blessed with a daughter, Melissa Anne, and in 1991 with their first son, Jonathan Jose. In 1995 Jose and Susan had their third child, Michael Julian. They live in a 270 year-old riverfront colonial home in Fairfield County, Connecticut . His passions include writing and recording in his studio, baseball – both playing and listening to it on the radio, and being a dad!