Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz” Turns 50

In the fall of 1970, José Feliciano needed one more song to round out his upcoming Christmas album.

It took just 15 minutes to bang out a tune. The lyrics were simple yet warm; the melody, joyful and catchy. When he added a jangly cuatro to his guitar — and recorded it in just one take — he had a smash.

Fifty years later, “Feliz Navidad” remains one of the greatest holiday songs of all time.

It’s a worldwide classic, right up there with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song.” Of course, José’s tune is a lot livelier than those chestnuts.

Now, as it reaches the half-century mark, “Feliz Navidad” is enjoying renewed attention.

Jose Feliciano

Last month, José released a revamped version. It includes nearly every genre imaginable. The 30 artists from 9 countries include  Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jason Mraz, Gloria Gaynor, Styx, Sam Moore, CNCO, Isabela Merced, Shaggy, Jon Secada, Rachael Ray,  Big & Rich and Los Temerarios.

Michael Bolton sings too. But that’s not the only local connection to Feliz’s 50th.

A global livestream concert is set for this Sunday (December 20, 7 p.m.). Feliciano will be joined by Andrés Cepeda, Austin Jenckes, Haley Reinhart and Kalsey Kulyk.

José Feliciano is a longtime Weston resident. Assumption Church parishioners know him from his Christmas Eve entertainment there; Westport Y members see him working out at the gym.

Much of the livestream was recorded at Norwalk’s Factory Underground studio.

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan, at home in Weston. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

In a normal year, José would be performing all over the world. He’s spent previous Decembers everywhere from South America to the Vatican. (He also sang “Feliz” one summer in China. The audience joined happily in.)

In 2020, the pandemic kept him home. So he worked on many 50th anniversary projects — not just the livestream, but books (in English and Spanish), an animated film, merchandise like a stuffed bear and t-shirts, and more.

José and his son Jonnie spent Labor Day weekend in their home studio, recording answers to questions that people might ask Alexa about Jose.

This has been another active month. The other day — accompanied by Jonnie on drums, and his other son Michael on bass — José appeared on Jimmy Fallon. It too was taped at Factory Underground.

He’s also been on CBS’ “Sunday Morning” and Telemundo. He gave interviews to the New Yorker, Billboard and the AP, among many others.

“Feliz Navidad” is “simple and joy-filled,” José says. Its long-running popularity has been “a blessing” for him and his family.

The other 7 billion people on the planet appreciate it just as much. So, from José Feliciano’s Weston home, to the rest of the globe:

Feliz Navidad
Próspero año y felicidad!

Click here for tickets to Jose Feliciano’s December 20 livestream. Click here for the link to the 50th anniversary recording on Amazon Music. Click here for all 50th anniversary information.

FUN FACT #1: “Feliz Navidad” has been recorded by everyone from the Three Tenors to the Wiggles. But Feliciano’s favorite versions are the videos sent in by fans, singing it themselves.

FUN FACT #2: “Feliz Navidad” is #10 on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 chart. (Hat tip: Mike Pryor)

5 responses to “Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz” Turns 50

  1. In a normal year, at this time of year, Bill Rother arranged for Jose and Suzanne Sheridan to perform together at area nursing homes and assisted living facilities. For close to 10 years, without any fanfare or remuneration, Jose and Suzanne sang Christmas songs together for the very appreciative audience in front of them. It was always a joy to behold and Jose has a wicked sense of humor which he never held back, even in front of an older crowd.

  2. Aww, Dan…you’re so good. Good to all of us in the community, and so I’m taking this opportunity to say now publicly (not only in private as I’ve shared with you so many times before), THANK YOU for your gift of undaunted attention and thoughtfulness that you offer those of us who love this little slice of Heaven we call 06880 (or 06883, depending sometimes..). We really appreciate your having an ear to the ground with respect to what’s happening around town…how we need that, especially now. Again, my friend, thank you.

    Also, Feliz Navidad, Everybody!

    p.s. The Billboard 100 chart isn’t just Christmas music chart but across the pop board…THAT’s what makes this so cool… it hasn’t happened, for Jose – a top 10 – in the English market, since Light My Fire…bless him.

  3. Celeste L Champagne

    So grateful to have this bit of joy every Christmas, but especially this one. Jose brings that joy whenever we hear him. Congratulations on the ongoing success of Feliz Navidad and of Jose in every aspect of his career. Susan says it beautifully.

  4. Jose used to train at the personal training gym I worked at (I still work there). He’d call for a same-day session, always no earlier than midday because he’d been up late the night before performing somewhere or writing. I had the pleasure of training him on numerous occasions. He was always full of great stories (one about opera singer, Andrea Bocelli, that I’ll never forget) and he could turn any piece of training equipment into an amazing percussion instrument. He took an interest in a guitar that I owned and told me to bring it in for our next session. My guitar never sounded as good as it did in Jose’s hands – it was a thrill to hear him play it and sing along with it in a big, echoing gym – just the two of us.

    Susan was always his ride to the gym – such a lovely person.

    Feliz Navidad to the Felicianos and congratulations on Jose’s continuing success.

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