A simple wish. A greeting of affection and good cheer that has, for over two generations, become some sort of anthem for well-wishers around the world, young and old alike, heralding the Christmas Holiday Season.
Back in the summer of 1970, Jose was hosting his record producer, Rick Jarrard, in his Southern California home as they worked together on a Christmas album for RCA. Rick and Jose had developed a warm and lasting relationship tempered by their harmonious style together and the successes they’d recently shared with “Light My Fire” and all of the music that had followed it.
Jose and Rick had been asked to record an album for the upcoming Holiday Season and were in the midst of choosing material while struggling, somewhat, to muster up some Christmas Spirit despite the midsummer heatwave. Rick took the initiative by recalling his childhood Christmases in the North, with tons of snow and great fires in his family hearth, while Jose began to reminisce about Las Fiestas Navidenas — those festive Caribbean gatherings with family friends, traditional holiday foods and its upbeat and cheerful Christmas music, played specifically on the Cuatro, the native stringed-instrument that Jose was, at the moment, showing to Rick in his family room.
Jose had recently returned from having visited Puerto Rico with his friend and drummer, Paulinho Magalhaes. While they were there, Jose’s Uncle Millo had given him a beautiful Cuatro that he had made himself. Back home now, Jose was feeling a bit nostalgic, missing his parents and brothers, and was sharing his own stories about the sumptuous foods that are reserved for that time of year and the music, much of which is played on such an instrument as the one he was showing to Rick. He started playing a little riff on it; then a few words went along with it, as well. Rick quickly encouraged him to “Play on, Jose! Continue!” and before they knew it, “Feliz Navidad” was born!
Arriving in the studio for their next session, they were excited to have an original Christmas song to add to their repertoire. Paulinho and Jose recorded the basic tracks that very day. Paulinho played the drums while following Jose on his guitar. Jose then played the bass and added the Cuatro to flavor it in that buoyant Puerto Rican style, while Paulinho added percussion, bells and shaker. Then Rick handed it over to Perry Botkin Jr., who arranged the strings and horns to punctuate its cheerful, Christmas feel.
Rick mixed, mastered and sequenced Jose’s Christmas album, deciding that “Feliz Navidad” should open it. He created a precedent whereby it has continued to build in stature, year after year, for over four decades.
In 1998, ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) recognized “Feliz Navidad” as one of the twenty-five most-performed Christmas Songs of the 20th century.
In 2009, NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences) inducted “Feliz Navidad” into the GRAMMY® Hall of Fame, which “serves as a celebration and reminder of the triumphs and achievements of the recording arts and honors recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance”.
In 2010, ASCAP announced that Feliz Navidad TOPPED the list of most-played Holiday Songs on Latin Radio. The Music Industry Magazine, “Cashbox,” summed it up this way: “(It’s) a fitting tribute for a song that not only merges cultures, but also receives more radio play than any other Christmas record.”
Today, “Feliz Navidad” is frequently included in Holiday pageants and Christmas events of all kinds. It’s been recorded dozens upon dozens of times by artists from Celine Dion, The Three Tenors, The Von Trapp Children, Michael Buble and Chicago, to Elmo, the Cheetah Girls, Dora the Explorer and Veggie Tales. It’s been used in countless Holiday ads on radio and television throughout the years, it’s become the subject of parady and it’s even a popular ringtone but, truly, the most gratifying statistic is that it has become a cherished part of countless Holiday Traditions for families all over the world. For example, there is a lady in New Zealand who writes to us each year regarding a tradition that she and her father share and have shared for many years. The two engage in a friendly bet as to whom shall first hear “Feliz Navidad” each Christmastime. It’s quite a contest and we’ve even been asked to join in, choosing sides and rooting for one or the other. Then before long, we hear from her again. “OK, who was it this year? Who heard it first? Who won?!!” Great fun and the stuff of which traditions are made…priceless.
Throughout the year, Jose is asked to sing a few bars of it, play it on stage or listen while others sing it to him. It seems that that little jingle of a melody that sometimes gets stuck in your head has gone so much further than Jose ever realized it could have, back on that hot summer day, so long ago, when he was missing his childhood Christmases in Puerto Rico.
In a very real way, “Feliz Navidad” has given Jose the ability to personally send a Holiday Greeting to you and to your loved ones every year, wishing you a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with all good things. It’s a wish that has always been sincere and one that’s come from his heart — in fact, “from the bottom” of his heart! God bless you all.