{ 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.


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: 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 […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: D (Part 2 – Davis, “Blind” John and Dranes, Arizona)

Blind John Davis Blind John Davis was born in Mississippi in 1913, but moved to Chicago with his family at a young age.  He lost his sight shortly thereafter at age 9. He began to learn the piano as a teen, and later became a regular session musician for famous blues record producer Lester Melrose […]

Music City 101: NLS Heads to Nashville!

Last month country music legend Dolly Parton joined Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden in a presentation to celebrate the achievements of Parton’s book-gifting organization (video of the event available here). They announced that the Library of Congress Young Readers Center is partnering with Parton’s charity to provide a special series of story time events. […]

From Nigeria to Colombia: an Homage to Braille Music

I recently read a compelling blog post about a 2015 Pulitzer-winning historical fiction novel.  The blogger, a college professor who is blind, expressed her sadness and frustration about the book’s misrepresentation of blind people described through the actions and inactions of the book’s young blind heroine. The blogger also lamented how most sighted readers accepted […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: C (Part 1 – Campbell, Francis Joseph)

The NLS Music Section is part of a national network of cooperating libraries.  With that in mind, we are in touch with the network when they have patrons who are interested in the materials provided by our section, and there is a nice spirit of cooperation between the network and our offices here in the […]

Braille Music Transcriber and Renaissance Woman, Karen Gearreald, Part 2

Continued from last week. Part 2 Q. What percentage of students who enroll in the program become LOC certified braille music transcribers? What are the most common obstacles to successfully completing the program? A. After concentrated study for a length of time ranging from several months to several years, about 50% of enrollees achieve certification […]

Braille Music Transcriber and Renaissance Woman: Karen Gearreald, Part 1

Part 1 Karen Gearreald has been an NLS patron since 1951, and when the Music Section was established in 1962, she enrolled for music services. She currently serves as a braille music advisor and instructor for the Library of Congress (LOC) Braille Music Transcription Certification program. While I initially contacted Karen to interview her about her […]