Fifty years is an awfully long time to live with a particularly sad something — anything, be it pain or disappointment or sorrow; it’s heartbreaking. Fifty years is just a long time.
As of this past week, however, we are overjoyed to report that the heartbreak is over! Long-time followers of the life and career of Jose Feliciano may have a hint as to what we’re alluding to, while perhaps his younger/newer followers may not yet understand…
In 1968, during the very birth of Feliciano’s ascent onto the international music scene, Jose was invited to render our nation’s anthem before a world series baseball game in Detroit, Michigan. The barely 23-year-old singer and guitarist who was basking in the joy of a chart-topping record throughout the United States: “Light My Fire” — one that was even spilling-over around the world, chose to perform the anthem in a decidedly innovative and interpretive fashion, causing an absolute furor around the country which continued for months, abruptly ending that steady ascent of his musical career in America.
“My music was taken off radio playlists and I struggled with any new record release from that point forward. My name, unfortunately, was mentioned only within the context of being ‘that guy who slaughtered our National Anthem.’ I had to tour primarily abroad to perform and did so throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia. I finally chose to record music in the Spanish language and was relieved to find that I could, thankfully, find my place in the hearts of the Spanish-speaking people around the world. But in America, I was lost. Eventually, the NBC comedy series, “Chico and the Man,” helped somewhat to regain my presence in the United States and of course, “Feliz Navidad” was an absolute blessing from out of no where, but I never felt I’d come to grips with the fallout caused by my interpretation of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It was never the same after that, and that was very painful…”
During this year, 2018, we have chosen to mark this fifty-year milestone and celebrate that which was positive, that which was good and indeed, pleasurable in the hearts of so many who appreciate Jose Feliciano and his musical achievements…
…and then several months ago, Jose unexpectedly received a phone call from an upper-management member of the very organization who’d invited him fifty years before, to again sing his now ‘famously infamous’ version of the National Anthem. Although some might say it had destroyed his career at the time, it effectively opened the doors for other artists to interpret the “Star-Spangled Banner” with the freedom to suit their artistic needs.
Jose was asked by the Detroit Tigers baseball team who were celebrating their fifty-year World Series win to open their game with his iconic interpretation of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” just as he had in 1968.
Their very kind and gracious gesture to invite Jose to return to Detroit and render the anthem during their own anniversary celebration not only exonerated Jose but brought real peace after so many years of heartache. The people of Detroit demonstrated the warmth and support necessary to erase decades and generations of rejection that had plagued Feliciano during his entire adult life.
From Detroit, Jose flew directly to Washington D.C., where a similar invitation was extended by the organizers of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, to perform the anthem at their annual awards presentation at the Kennedy Center. It was filmed and will air on PBS, Friday, September 28th at 10 pm ET (check local listings). It was important for them to recognize the artistic contributions made by Feliciano during these past fifty years.
While Jose was in D.C. he also had the good fortune to ‘visit’ his National Anthem/Light My Fire Candelas Guitar which became part of the Smithsonian collection during this, Feliciano’s milestone year. He was invited there by his friend and museum curator, John Troutman, to participate in a 10-episode podcast where Jose’s beloved Candelas was chosen to be featured in one of those episodes. While he chatted with the museum staff and video crew, Jose composed a little song on his guitar, “Old Girl, I’ve Come to See You.” Everyone present was stunned when they realized that he’d written it right there, on the spot. Typical Jose.
A very sweet moment…during a very important week which became a gift for Jose during this, his very special Golden Anniversary year.
A Million Thanks to the Smithsonian Museum, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Kennedy Center, the Detroit Historical Society, and to the Detroit Tigers.