Tag Archives: “Feliz Navidad”

Once Again, Jose Feliciano Strikes Gold

I seldom listen to WEBE 108.

It’s playing holiday music now though, so it’s on my pre-sets. I have this ridiculous false hope that one day I’ll hear an actual Christmas carol — Luciano Pavarotti belting out “O Holy Night,” say — instead of the squintillionth rendition of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

Yet last week, what to my wondering ears did appear but a yuletide song I had never heard before.

It was a Christmas miracle.

This was no longer background music, as I waited impatiently behind an idiot driver who did not know that since 1979, it has been legal in Connecticut to make a right turn on red. This time, I listened closely to the song.

The voice was familiar.

It was Jose Feliciano’s.

When the fresh, beautiful song ended, Danny Lyons said he had just played a  “world premiere.”

I had to know more.

I called Jose at his Weston home. He was off on tour somewhere. Hey, this is prime Feliz Navidad season.

But his wonderful wife Susan was happy to tell me the fascinating back story.

It begins 50 years ago, when Rick Jarrard was a staff producer for RCA Records in Los Angeles. He convinced Jose to record “Light My Fire.”

Jose Feliciano and Rick Jarrard

The young singer/guitarist was dubious. It had been a hit for the Doors less than a year before. What could he add?

Plenty, it turned out. It reached #3 in the US, and #1 in the UK, Canada and Brazil.

The duo collaborated on 6 best-selling albums, including one in 1970 of Christmas songs. It was filled with classics like “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.”

Rick asked Jose to write an original song too. He didn’t think he could.

But he’d just gotten a cuatro — a Puerto Rican stringed instrument. He thought back to his childhood on the island.

So — in the middle of July — Jose wrote “Feliz Navidad.” It’s become one of the best-selling Christmas songs of all time.

A few years ago, Rick wrote “On This Christmas Night.” Jose recorded it in his Weston studio. It’s beautiful, inspirational and sing-along-ish. But it was never released, so Rick just put it on Spotify.

He and Jose basically forgot about it.

Somehow though, the creators and producers of “Hamilton” found it.

And chose it — out of hundreds of contenders — to be their curtain call finale during this holiday season.

Soon, their interpretation will be released on a CD — with music from other Broadway, off-Broadway and traveling productions — called “Carols for a Cure, Volume 20” to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

When they heard the news last month, Jose and Susan were thrilled — not for themselves, but for their longtime friend and collaborator Rick. Susan said she cried for 3 days, with joy.

Then — just before Thanksgiving — Jose did a “Countdown to Christmas Music” promotion for WEBE 108. Susan told program director/midday DJ Danny Lyons how “On This Christmas Night” had dropped from the sky, into “Hamilton” and Equity’s AIDS benefit.

Danny listened to the song. He called it “providential.” His minister’s sermon had just noted that most Christmas songs today completely miss the meaning of Christmas.

Which is how Danny came to play “On This Christmas Night” that day last week. The fact that I heard it on its world radio premiere was — well, providential.

Danny told Jose he’d pass the song on to his programming colleagues around the country. Which means it may join “Feliz Navidad” as another great holiday contribution to the world, from our neighbor Jose Feliciano.

Of course — this being the holiday season — Jose is in great demand.

He’s playing all over the world this month: Palm Springs, New York, England, Vienna (with the Boys’ Choir) and the Vatican (for — of course! — the Pope’s Christmas program).

But Jose always has time for us. He returns home December 23. The next night, he offers his annual gift of music at Assumption Church’s Christmas Eve mass.

Feliz Navidad indeed. And muchas gracias, Jose Feliciano!

(Click here, then scroll down to hear “On This Christmas Night.” The Broadway Cares CD can be bought after shows. It will be available after Christmas on iTunes.)

Feliz Navidad, Santa Baby!

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.”

Turns out, 06880 — and 06883 — are where we meet the Christmas music world too.

The other day in Weston, Susan Feliciano was listening to Songcraft. The popular podcast features chats with the creators of America’s most popular music.

The most recent edition covered Christmas songs. Susan’s husband Jose was the first interview.

The best-selling guitarist/vocalist has been on a sold-out tour of the British Isles since October. So even though Susan knew the back story, it was nice to hear Jose’s voice as he talked about writing the joyful, jangly — and spectacularly successful — “Feliz Navidad” one day in July.

She kept listening.

The next interview was with Phil Springer. That’s when Susan learned something she never knew.

Springer is now 91. Way back in 1953 — more than 60 years ago — he was a Brill Building songwriter, writing for stars like Judy Garland.

His boss asked Springer to work with lyricist Joan Javits on a Christmas song for Eartha Kitt.

“She was the sexiest woman in America,” he told Songcraft.

Springer and Javits spent 2 weekends collaborating on the song — at her father’s Westport home. (Springer did not say who Javits’ father was. But her uncle was Jacob Javits, then a US congressman from New York, later a senator, and now the namesake of a large convention center.)

Their collaboration became what Springer calls “the first sexy Christmas song” (with lyrics like “Santa baby, Slip a sable under the tree, for me … Been an awful good girl … Hurry down the chimney tonight”).

Eartha Kitt’s recording became a huge hit in 1953 — but then disappeared. (Coincidentally, in later years she became a Weston neighbor of Jose and Susan Feliciano.)

“Santa Baby” resurfaced in 1987, when Madonna revived it. Since then it’s been featured in “Driving Miss Daisy,” and recorded by many other female singers.

Today, both “Feliz Navidad” and “Santa Baby” can be heard on every Christmas radio station — and just about every other place — in America.

Including — particularly proudly — Westport and Weston, their spiritual homes.

(Click here for the full Songcraft Christmas show podcast.)

06880 (Dan) and 06883 (Jose) Wish You A Merry Christmas!

Jose Feliciano: Far More Than ‘Feliz Navidad’

“Feliz Navidad” — the jingly-jangly, ever-popular holiday tune — is the 1st thing most people associate with Jose Feliciano.

The Puerto Rican-born guitarist/singer/composer — and longtime Weston resident — has done much more, of course. He produced a great version of “Light My Fire,” played for the pope, and performed the 1st-ever non-traditional version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a sports event. (The 1968 World Series — and though it was controversial at the time, it set the stage for all the Whitney Houstons who followed.)

Feliciano is more than a 1-trick pony when it comes to Christmas songs, too. Check out this beautiful “Cancion de Navidad.” He accompanies Silvio Rodriguez on guitar. (Click on the “Playlist” on the upper left corner of the YouTube video for Jose’se song.)


(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

Thanks, Jose. After listening to this, there’s only 1 thing left to say:

Feliz Navidad!

Feliz Navidad! Gracias Jose Feliciano y Bill Rother

If they’re lucky, most nursing home residents sing Christmas carols with a couple of karaoke wannabes.

Fairfield County residents get an annual show with Jose Feliciano and Bill Rother.

Jose Feliciano (left) and Bill Rother

Feliciano, of course, is the musician who wrote and recorded “Feliz Navidad,” one of the 10 most popular Christmas songs of all time.  (His version of “Light My Fire” also hit #3 on the American pop charts.)

Rother played guitar in the 1950s with the then-famous Fred Waring & his Pennsylvanians.  They did lots of live television, including “Ed Sullivan”; they also performed at the White House for President Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth.

When Feliciano moved to Weston — where Rother lived — they met through Mark Graham’s WMMM radio show.  Rother was then in the midst of a 40-year career with Tauck Tours.

After Rother retired, Feliciano asked him to become his tour manager.  Rother had no desire to get back on the road — he’d already seen over 100 countries — but the singer assured him there wouldn’t be much traveling.

In their first year together, they went around the world.  Twice.

Some years ago, Feliciano’s mother-in-law was in the Wilton Meadows nursing home.  He and Rother did a Christmas show there.

The residents had such a good time — and the duo enjoyed themselves so much — they’ve made it a holiday tradition of their own.  Each year — very quietly, because they don’t want a lot of hoopla beforehand — they perform for area seniors.

This year they did shows at the Westport Health Care Center (formerly Mediplex), as well as nursing homes in Darien and Greenwich.  Last week, they starred at the Assumption Church senior luncheon.

The senior citizens like the energetic, up-tempo Feliciano.  But they love Rother.

“I play all of the old stuff, from World War II,” Rother says, with a playful jab at his friend.  “I get a bigger hand than Jose.”