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.
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.
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:
Próspero año y felicidad!
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)