Known for his rendition of The Doors' "Light My Fire" and the best-selling Christmas single "Feliz Navidad,” Puerto Rican-born José Feliciano is one of the best known and most beloved Latino music starts of the last few decades. Pairing a smooth guitar style with a soothing voice and famous sense of humor, the famed musician has endeared himself to millions and has done it all without the use of his eyes.
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Fox News’ Alicia Acuna sat down with Feliciano to discuss his upbringing in Puerto Rico and New York City’s Spanish Harlem, his musical prowess and what the future holds for the virtuoso musician.
Shortly after moving to New York City, Feliciano’s uncle gave him his first guitar at the age of nine and, as he recalls, he hardly put it down since. While other kids his age were out playing on the street, the blind Feliciano was inside his family’s home practicing Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.”
“I obviously couldn’t go out and play baseball, which is another one of my passions,” Feliciano told Fox News. “When I was a kid, I could make music out of anything, whether it be a rubber band, a tin can. Whatever it was I made music out of it and so that was my knack.”
By 17, Feliciano was a star and playing professionally in Argentina, where he became a teen sensation and had to learn to deal with all the highs and lows of celebrity stardom – especially without the benefit of sight.
“There were screaming girls, I had to learn as a blind person how to run to a limousine otherwise they’d take my clothes off and stuff,” he said. “I thought to myself ‘how could this happen?’ I mean I could see it, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, but José Feliciano?”
“It was a mystery to me,” he added.
The mystery for Feliciano kept unraveling as his fame spread across the Spanish-speaking world and into the United States, where his version of The Doors’ infamous song “Light My Fire” became an overnight sensation, he became the first Latin artist to have two different records on the Billboard charts and even sang the National Anthem at the World Series in 1968.
His act of patriotism, however, came in the midst of both a virulent anti-war movement against action in Vietnam and when prejudice toward Latinos was even more prevalent than it is today. The backlash against Feliciano came swiftly, with some even calling for Feliciano to be deported…to the American territory of Puerto Rico.
“I wanted the young kids to have a little respect for the flag, for their anthem.” Feliciano said. “I wanted to show my appreciation for the fact that this kid from Puerto Rico – from the hills of Puerto Rico – came to America and was given a chance.”
Dealing with blindness his whole life, Feliciano was used to fighting an uphill battle and he kept writing, playing and performing his music. Now almost 50 years later and with a new single “Don’t Go Away,” Feliciano is in the midst of a world tour and it doesn’t look like he’s about to slow down anytime soon.
While there are many things that this prolific musician could be remembered for, Feliciano says that there is only one thing he really wants the world to think about him when he’s gone.
“I hope that I will be remembered as a man that tried to bring peace with his music,” Feliciano said.