{ subscribe_url:'/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/nls-music-notes.php' }

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: F (Part 2 – Feliciano, José)

José Feliciano is a guitarist, singer and songwriter best known for his interpretation of the songs “Feliz Navidad,” “Light My Fire” and “Hi-Heel Sneakers.” Feliciano was born blind on September 10, 1945 in Lares, Puerto Rico. At age five, his family moved to New York. José Feliciano always liked music and started playing the harmonica and the accordion before he received his first guitar at age nine. He loved the sound of the guitar and later said in an interview that he felt that “it was like a calling” to play it.

Half-length portrait of Jose Feliciano playing the guitar. Photo from 1965.

José Feliciano in 1965. //www.loc.gov/item/96523179/

Feliciano’s initial way of learning music was to listen to the radio and to copy what he heard. In the beginning Feliciano mostly played Spanish songs. At age 13 he would learn rock and roll by listening to Chuck Berry. At age 15 he bought himself records and continued to improve his guitar skills by imitating playing styles of guitarist Andrés Segovia and Charlie Byrd. He later learned about barre chords when, still at the New York Lighthouse for the Blind, he received lessons from a classical guitar teacher. Feliciano remembers: “I took off like a horse at the Kentucky Derby. It all clicked.”

One highlight of his youth was at age 16. Duke Ellington visited the New York Lighthouse for the Blind to engage with the children there, and Feliciano was fortunate to play music together with him. At age 17, Feliciano started playing music in Greenwich Village coffee houses. Rapidly gaining popularity, two years later Feliciano released his first album with his breakthrough recording “Light My Fire.”

In addition to playing the acoustic guitar, Feliciano also played the electric guitar with a jazz ensemble. While he experimented with various kinds of strings on the guitar, his favorite kind has become the nylon string. Feliciano stated: “I do play steel-string and the electric guitar, too, because I love rock ‘n’ roll and guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. But my bread and butter has always been the nylon-string. Very few guitarists play nylon-string. They don’t know how to get the sound out of them. That’s something I’ve spent a lot of time on.”

José Feliciano has long been an internationally recognized musician. Among the honors he received are more than forty Gold and Platinum records; nine Grammy Awards, the Billboard Magazine’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 1996 and a Star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 1987. Feliciano was once asked in an interview if there was anything he wishes he could do on the guitar that he currently could not or if there was anything he would like to improve. He answered: “Everything. I hope everything. The day I stop learning and I don’t try to make myself better on the guitar, that’s the day I hang it up and say, ‘Goodbye.’ I’m always learning. I’m always grateful to the young kids who play guitar and do new things.”

Would you like to learn the guitar? Get a good start with:

Would you like to learn how to play the guitar like José Feliciano? Check out these audio lessons from Bill Brown’s series Guitar by ear:

  • Light My Fire. Taught by Bill Brown in the style of José Feliciano. Digital cartridge, DBM03819.
  • Hi-heel Sneakers. Taught by Bill Brown in the style of José Feliciano. Digital cartridge, DBM03816.

If you have any questions about borrowing materials, please contact the NLS Music Section by email at [email protected] or by calling us at 1-800-424-8567, extension 2.


Digitizing Braille Music Summer 2018

The digitization project at the NLS marches on and currently it is in the hands of a summer intern! This is a guest post from Hannah Noel, a West Coast native currently living in North Carolina. She is a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, where she earned her […]

New BARD Additions: July 2018

Read this blog and discover new materials, recorded and braille, now available from the NLS Music Section. Audio Materials All of the following are productions of Bill Brown. Banjo American Pie.  Teaches this Don McLean song without the use of music notation.  (DBM03915) Piano Bless the Broken Road. Teaches how to play “Bless the Broken […]

Blind James Campbell and His Nashville Washboard Band

“Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain’t no place I’d rather be”–This is the song that we have been singing for the past several weeks here in the Music Section of the National Library Service (along with Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter in their song “Tennessee Jed”).  The NLS national conference in Nashville has now come and gone, […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: F (Part 1-Foster, Stephen Collins)

Hard Times Come Again No More! American Composers, Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) I am happy that we are focusing on American composers as a blog cycle; there are always new discoveries and new things to learn about our unique country’s history. And sometimes, if you want to understand an atmosphere of a specific era, look […]

A Blast of Brass!

Last year we discussed method books available from the NLS Music collection for most band and orchestra instruments. We’ve even done some posts on specific instruments, like saxophone and violin. Today, though, I decided to focus a post specifically on brass instruments. “Why brass?” you ask. Well for one, brass instruments are near and dear […]

New BARD Additions: June 2018

Welcome to the newest additions of music materials on BARD. Audio Materials Amazing Grace. For late beginner. Bill Brown teaches how to play the late beginner version of “Amazing Grace” on the piano without the use of music notation. (DBM03901) Chattanooga Choo Choo. Bill Brown teaches how to play the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s 1940s classic […]

Getting Over the Hump with Midweek Music

At NLS, we have an unoccupied cubicle with an electric piano and a small couch in the corridor leading to the music section. Shortly after the completion of the building renovations early this year, a sign saying “Piano Lounge” appeared on the outside wall of this cubicle. Now and then, people would stop in to […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: E (Part 2 – Eyck, Jacob van)

This week we’ll break with our series a bit to discuss the life of a blind musician from outside of the United States. Had someone mentioned a composer named van Eyck to me when I was a child, I might have guessed that he was born before or during World War II. When I heard […]

Nashville Sound: Hargus “Pig” Robbins

Hargus “Pig” Robbins might be the most famous piano player you’ve never heard of, though you’ve likely heard his work. The National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals will begin in a matter of days in Nashville, Tennessee, so today I want to tell you about a musician who is blind and […]