Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jose Feliciano Started with a Ukulele

One of my favorite singer/musicians has always been Jose Feliciano.  There is a style to his playing and a sound to his voice that brings magic to any song he plays.  It's not just the perennial Christmas classic "Feliz Navidad" or his definitve cover of The Door's "Light My Fire," but so many others including "Ain't No Sunshine" and many Beatles classics as well.  One of the first songs I ever learned was the theme to "Chico and the Man," which he sang and actually performed on an episode of the 1970s NBC sitcom starring Freddie Prinz.

So I was really surprised to find that Feliciano began his musical journey with a ukulele.  You can learn the details yourself in this YouTube video of clasical guiarist James Hunley's "The Acoustic Experience" interview with Feliciano. 

As we approach Independence Day this year, it is also interesting to note that it was Feliciano, not Marvin Gaye or Jimmy Hendrix, who did the first non-traditional rendition of the National anthem.  As the story goes, Detroit Tiger announcer Ernie Harwell invited Feliciano to play the National Anthem at game five of the 1968 World Series between Detroit and the St. Louis Cardinals (the Tigers won, by the way.  I was seven that year and got to meet a few of the stars of the team at a Buick dealership where, to make matters even more interesting, my future father-in-law was working--but I do digress). 

While taking artistic liberties with the song of the Land of Liberty is quite common now, it was unheard of at Feliciano's time and while some people cheered, many were shocked by the performance.  His moving rendition is now considered a ground-breaking classic.

This year, 42 years later, on May 10, Feliciano was invited back to perform his vesion of the National Anthem once again in Detroit, this time to honor his friend Ernie Harwell, who had just died of cancer.  Below is a YouTube video of the song.  While some comments say it is sung in a monotone, I am impressed by how faithful Feliciano is to the original.  His voice is still brilliant and still moving.

For Harwell's rendition of the story, as well as the story of Feliciano's 1968 version of the National Anthem, visit Feliciano's official website.

I don't know if Jose Feliciano still plays ukulele, but it was interesting finding this conenction with one of my favorite singer/musicians.

-Lamb Chop

Please note that video is this post is from YouTube and is content that I neither created nor posted to YouTube.   


  1. Hi! Really am enjoying your blog. So interesting. I bought a ukulele about a year ago in hopes of getting over a strong intimidation towards playing a music...long story....baggage I happen to still be carrying from my childhood and youth. I felt a connection with the uke and its simplicity at least it felt approachable to me. I have not played it as much as I'd hoped but am not giving up. Full time work, grandbabies and the band I am in keep me so busy, but I have to say everythime I play it, I feel so much joy. I am determined not to let this one go:) Your post about the notes of the uke is going to be so helpful to me. You and Humble Uker are giving me a good education here. Thank YOU! I want to introduce you to our band, Wise Old River. If you are interested check out our site:

    also on youtube we have a site but just put in our name and you can see a lot more of our work that others have posted. Stay away from the
    Acoustic Coffeehouses they are terrible I don't know if you like Americana...we call our music Eclectic Americana. I loved this post. Feliciano is spectacular. I, too always loved his voice and playing. WEll, so glad to be following your blog. peace, jeanne

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I just saw your post - thanks for your kind words and I will be happy to look at your band!