BWW Interview: Jose Feliciano at NJPAC
Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" has been the soundtrack to many a Christmas memory over the past 46 years. One would be hard pressed to find someone who has not listened while baking cookies or decorating the tree, wrapped in the bliss of holiday spirit the song instantly conjures. It is easy to imagine Santa Claus himself toe-tapping along to it in his sleigh as Rudolph guides him to the next child's house.
While it would be easy to understand if he ever soured on "Feliz Navidad" after playing it for so many years, Feliciano still enjoys his timeless hit. The singer, who will perform two shows at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Dec. 18, said it has even become a tradition within his own family. And he is grateful for all that it has done for him.
"I feel blessed and honored with the song," Feliciano told BroadwayWorld.com. "And it still has success."
That is no exaggeration. More than four decades since its release in 1970, "Feliz Navidad" currently holds the No. 8 spot on the Billboard Holiday 100. On top of that, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers included it in its list of the top 25 most played and recorded Christmas songs around the world. Its digital sales alone exceed 800,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which puts it among the bestselling Christmas/holiday digital singles in history.
Yet for all its success, "Feliz Navidad" was not written for financial gain. Feliciano said he simply loves Christmas and wanted to do a song embracing the holiday. So he put his Christmas cheer to music.
The decision to write the lyrics in both English and Spanish came about partly out of necessity. Feliciano has said in previous interviews that he knew radio would likely not play the song if it was solely in Spanish, so he added the line "I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart." At the same time though, he told BroadwayWorld that performing songs generally performing English and Spanish songs has always been a priority.
"Since I speak both languages, it's important for me to perform in both languages," Feliciano said.
"Feliz Navidad" has become a classic among both English and Spanish speaking audiences, even entering the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2010. But that song is far from the only thing for which Feliciano is known.
In 1968, Feliciano scored a massive hit with his cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire." With its Latin flare and smooth melody, the song peaked at the No. 3 slot on the Billboard Hot 100 and made its singer a bona fide star in the United States. It was so well received that Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, who largely wrote the original version, credited Feliciano's take for making his own a success.
Looking back on it though, Feliciano said he never expected his cover to do so well. And he said there is no particular secret to its success.
"I just perform it in my own way," Feliciano said.
Even before those U.S. hits, Feliciano was a major star internationally. Specializing in bolero - a type of Latin music - and with unparalleled guitar skills, the singer became a household name in Latin America years before "Light My Fire" hit the airwaves. He was especially popular with the girls, who would often mob him in public.
And while many other "heartthrobs" fall by the wayside after a short time in the spotlight, Feliciano continues to make music to this day. In fact, he has produced around 70 albums and amassed 10 Grammys during his 53 years as a performer. And he said he hopes to accomplish much more in the years ahead.
But first, he is going to wish NJPAC a feliz navidad.
Photo courtesy of NJPAC.