Known for chart-topping hits like “Feliz Navidad” and his rendition of “Light My Fire,” award-winning Puerto Rican artist José Feliciano is being honored for his prolific career with the first Billboard Legend Award.
The new award was created to honor artists like Feliciano for their fruitful careers and their contributions, which have transcended the industry.
Feliciano’s career has spanned 60 years and has earned him more than 45 Gold and Platinum records. The 77-year-old composer and singer also has received 19 Grammy nominations, including nine Grammy Awards and the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Feliciano is regarded as the first Latin artist to successfully cross over into the English music market, opening the doors for other Latin artists to step into the American music industry.
With over 600 songs and more than 60 albums released, his unique style, virtuoso guitar performances and unmistakable voice have earned him an international presence. His music has transited through different genres, including pop, mariachi, ballad, bachata, bolero, rock, soul and jazz.
His interpretation of the Christmas song “Feliz Navidad” has endured through generations and was regarded as one of the 25 greatest holiday songs of the 20th century by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. His rendition of “Light My Fire” topped global charts in 1968 and “Che Sara” also became a huge success throughout Europe, Asia and South America. Other hits include “Rain,” “Chico and the Man” and “California Dreamin’,” among others.
Feliciano is also widely known to be the first artist to stylize “The Star-Spangled Banner.” His rendition of the anthem came during the fifth game of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals in 1968, opening the doors for new generations of stylization of the anthem since.
Feliciano was born blind in Lares, Puerto Rico, in 1945. He first gained interest in music at age 3, when he accompanied his uncle musically by tapping on a tin cracker can. His family moved to New York City when he was 5. He later taught himself to play guitar and was inspired to sing by the rock ‘n’ roll of the ’50s.
At 17, Feliciano quit school to help his family financially playing in coffee houses in Greenwich Village, and later across clubs and cafes in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Denver. An executive from Radio Corporation of America at the time saw one of his performances and signed him. His first couple of singles, “Poquita Fe” and “Usted,” were instant hits.
By 23, Feliciano had earned five Grammy nominations, winning two for his album “Feliciano!” and was known for his unique acoustic guitar style and vocals all throughout South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
A critically acclaimed documentary chronicling his career, “José Feliciano — Behind This Guitar,” will be released on Sept. 29 on Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service. The film was executive produced by Emilio and Gloria Estefan, Carlos Santana and Rudy Pérez.
Feliciano will be honored with the Billboard Legend Award during the 2022 Billboard Latin Music Awards on Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. EST, which will be aired by Telemundo.
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Edwin Flores reports and produces for NBC Latino and is based in Anaheim, California.