José Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, and moved to New York as a child. In 1970, he missed his 10 brothers and the rest of his family. He missed caroling and eating traditional foods with his family. He was lonely. So he came up with a song that captured the joy of the Christmas season in both Spanish and English: “Feliz Navidad.”
The song is now on the Top 10 Christmas Songs list at Billboard. It contains a total of 19 words and lasts for three minutes. It has been heard by 3.8 billion people, according to Billboard. ASCAP’s Top 25 list, featuring the most-played Christmas songs of 2020, features “Feliz Navidad” at #21. Th song has also showed up on ASCAP’s liftoff theMost Played Christmas Songs of All Time.
Feliciano recorded the song with his own guitar, bass, and cuatro. The only other instruments on the recording are percussion. With influences from classical guitar and traditional Latin American music as well as Puerto Rican music and jazz, his original song brought a new sound to the mostly traditional “Feliz Navidad” album.
Feliciano celebrated the 50th anniversary of the song with a new recording, a live version on late-night TV, and a children’s book.
Jose Feliciano is often mentioned as the first Spanish-speaking musician to get significant crossover success with bilingual music in the United States. His recording of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” hit #3 in the United States, selling over one million albums. That year, he received his first two Grammy awards.
Feliciano also sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1968 World Series. His Latin jazz style recording later became the only recording of the national album to hit the pop charts, but at the time it offended many traditionalists. People called for his deportation, not realizing that as a Puerto Rican, he was a U.S. citizen.
“I thought, ‘Well, they’re gonna have a tough time because Puerto Rico is part of the United States!'” he said in an interview. “I don’t think anybody loves this country as much as I do.”
“Feliz Navidad” is an international hit, though. The new children’s book, released on Feliciano’s 75th birthday in September, portrays him as a musical superhero flying around the world singing, “Feliz Navidad.”