© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Arts & Life

Jose Feliciano Hosts Naturalization Ceremony, Performs National Anthem

Jose Feliciano performs at the Smithsonian
Jose Feliciano performs at the Smithsonian

Funny what the passage of 50 years will do to a controversy.

In 1968, 23-year-old Jose Feliciano was riding high on the pop charts when he was asked to sing the national anthem at the World Series in Detroit. In retrospect, it was nothing controversial. But in 1968, his bluesy, folk version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" ruffled a lot of traditionalists who considered it to be unpatriotic. It even caused some radio stations to stop playing his songs.

Eventually the furor died down, his record company released the track as a single, and it spent five weeks on Billboard's Top 100 chart, peaking at No. 50.

Standing at a podium at the on Thursday, 50 years later, Feliciano greeted 20 immigrants from 17 countries who were about to become naturalized U.S. citizens. "I welcome you with open arms because America will always be great because of the people who come to it," he said.

And then he sang. That song. And tears began to fill people's eyes.

Feliciano was invited to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the naturalization ceremony because it was June 14, or Flag Day.

The Smithsonian is the home of the actual flag referenced in that title, the one Francis Scott Key saw flying over Fort McHenry from aboard ship as morning broke over Baltimore in 1814, signaling an American victory in a fight with the British. It was that flag that inspired a poem that turned into a song that became the United States of America's national anthem — and inadvertently put a blind Puerto Rican singer on the hot seat.

And on that fateful day in 1968, Feliciano opened the doors to a wide variety of artistic interpretations of the anthem by artists in the following 50 years.

Jose Feliciano has recorded more than 60 albums, including 45 gold and platinum records worldwide. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987, a Billboard Latin Music Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 — not to mention seven Grammys and two Latin Grammys and even more nominations of both. And his song "Feliz Navidad" has spread a lot of love as one of the most beloved popular Christmas songs of all time.

Feliciano will be commemorated with an exhibit at the National Museum of American History that will house memorabilia from his storied career, including the very same guitar he played at the 1968 World Series; a Concerto Candelas guitar made for him a year earlier by Candelario "Candelas" Delgado. The guitar was also used to record his popular album Feliciano!, featuring his hit version of The Doors's song "Light My Fire". The Smithsonian will also house his specially designed performance stool that has accompanied him around the world, his Perkins Brailler that he used to write with, and embroidered fan letter that he toured with, and a pair of personalized Italian-made sunglasses worn throughout his career.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.