On October 7th, 1968, a 23-year-old Jose Feliciano walked out onto centerfield of Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan and did something that had never been done publicly before that afternoon.
With only his voice and his acoustic guitar, he rendered our nation’s anthem in a radical way. Instead of singing it acapella or by being accompanied by the brass band standing there behind him, he offered to his audience in the stadium and to the millions of fans watching on TV and listening to their radios around the country, his personal and heartfelt interpretation of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Today, it nearly always is sung with a dash of personal interpretation of some kind, either in the tempo or in its inflections, but before that World Series Baseball Game between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals, you’d be hardpressed to ever find any infraction to the time-honored, traditional and precise delivery of the anthem. To have done so would have been construed as insurrection.
But for Jose, who had taken this opportunity to say ‘Thank you’ to a country and a culture that had embraced him and his family 17 years before when they’d emigrated from Puerto Rico to New York City, he sang it from his heart. He sang it and played it a little slower than the norm, accentuating some of his Latin, as well as his more recently acquired jazz rudiments, and was chastised, criticized and almost completely destroyed by his performance. There is zero exaggeration intended here in these words.
Ironically, the general public no longer remembers and perhaps, that’s a good thing.
Today, Jose Feliciano is invited to sing the National Anthem at political and sporting events of all kinds around the country; his version is immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and next year, in celebration of its 50th – Golden Anniversary in 2018, it will be highlighted in yet to be disclosed public displays of appreciation.
The New York Times, who on that day in 1968, blazed a seething article and photo across its front page, now offers a gentler, kinder, more timely report, recalling the event that almost crushed but now condones a justified Jose Feliciano.
We find the 180-degree status quo journey interesting.