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CLEARLAKE’S JOSÉ E. FELICIANO NAMED TO 2021 PE LEADERS IN DEI
Mergers & Acquisitions names the 2021 PE Leaders in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, including José E. Feliciano, co-founder and managing partner of Clearlake Capital Group.
As the private equity industry matures, many of its leaders are focusing increasingly on philanthropy. José E. Feliciano, co-founder of Clearlake Capital Group, is a good example. In July, Feliciano was named one of the winners of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 2021 Ripple of Hope Awards. The latter honors exemplary leaders across government, business, advocacy, and entertainment who have taken a bold stand for justice and human rights. On top of that, Feliciano and his wife, Kwanza Jones, are co-founders of the Supercharged Initiative. The Kwanza Jones & José E. Feliciano Supercharged Initiative is a philanthropic grantmaking and impact investment organization that invests in both nonprofits and for-profit ventures that are compatible with its goal to make a lasting impact across four key priorities: education, entrepreneurship, equal opportunity, and empowerment. Recent gifts were made to Princeton University, Stanford University and Bennett College, one of the country’s oldest historically black colleges for women.
Based in Santa Monica, California, Clearlake was founded in 2006. The firm manages about $39 billion focusing on the software, technology-enabled services, industrials, energy and consumer sectors. Among the firms recent deals, on Aug. 5, Clearlake said it is going to take talent management software company Cornerstone OnDemand Inc. (Nasdaq: CSOD) private for $5.2 billion.
Feliciano shared some insights with Mergers & Acquisitions in this Q&A:
What steps you are taking to improve DEI at your firm?
Since the firm’s inception, I and my co-founder Behdad Eghbali have worked to foster a culture of diversity and equal opportunities. Given our own backgrounds, we understand the unique challenges that diverse professionals can face in private equity, and we felt it was important to set a “tone at the top” to promote, cultivate and nurture diversity at Clearlake. To that end, Clearlake adopted a Diversity Policy and set in motion a series of initiatives to ensure we maintain a consistent and continued focus on the important goals of diversity and inclusion across all aspects of our business. And it’s working – as of July 2021, over 75 percent of the firm’s employees are considered diverse.
A key component of our hiring strategy has been to develop strategic relationships with nonprofit organizations supporting women and minorities. Some of these organizations include the Association of Asian American Investment Managers (AAAIM), Robert Toigo Foundation (Toigo), Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Alternative Investments, and the Women’s Private Equity Summit. Clearlake’s partnership with these organizations provides the firm with a platform to recruit, employ, educate, and sustain a team of mixed cultures and skills, and also advances Clearlake’s commitment to the development and advancement of diversity in the industry overall.
Diversity is not something you can “achieve” and then move on. We’re always looking to improve, so we are continually reviewing our operations and initiatives to seek better ways to expand or enhance our efforts to create a vital and accommodating workplace.
What steps are you taking to improve DEI at your portfolio companies?
As part of our operational improvement strategy, known as O.P.S., we engage in ESG due diligence at inception of an investment where we evaluate the target companies DEI policies, results and most importantly opportunities for improvement. We work with our management teams to find opportunities to advance diversity practices and programs. We not only look at a company’s diversity statistics overall, but we also strive to promote more varied representation at the executive and board levels. We are strong believers that diverse leadership leads to better governance, and our portfolio company Diligent, in partnership with Clearlake, recently launched the Modern Leadership initiative to help organizations build more diverse and inclusive boards and leadership teams.
In addition, we engage ESG experts where necessary to complement our skill and expertise where we look for greater exposure to areas where we are looking for continuous improvement. Through ESG due diligence and third-party reviews, we can better identify ESG risks and opportunities at the portfolio company level, both before we make an acquisition and afterwards. We also conduct objective assessments to measure progress on DEI. This includes a regular review of our companies’ policies around Diversity and Inclusion and Parental Leave. In addition, we insist on a Code of Conduct that covers harassment, discrimination and/or workplace violence.
Anything you’d like to add?
I think it’s important for young people today to have exposure to leaders from a wide array of backgrounds, because only when they can see many examples of success can they truly believe their own dreams and goals are achievable. This is especially important in PE, which is less understood than other areas of finance within diverse communities. There’s a great need for sponsorship, mentorship, and inclusive policies to support the long-term success of underrepresented talent, which is why I and others at the firm take an active role in the ongoing development and advancement of diverse professionals, both internally and within the industry.
José Monserrate Feliciano García (born September 10, 1945), better known simply as José Feliciano [xoˈse feliˈsjano], is a Puerto Rican guitarist, singer, and songwriter, best known for many international hits, including his rendition of The Doors' "Light My Fire" and the best-selling Christmas single, "Feliz Navidad." He was born blind. His music is known for having a mix of styles, for example including both flamenco music and mellow easy listening influences in many songs.
In the US, he received widespread popularity in the 1960s, particularly after his 1968 album Feliciano!came out and was a number two hit. He has released many albums over the years in both English and Spanish.
Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, on September 10, 1945. Born permanently blind as a result of congenital glaucoma, he was first exposed to music at the age of three; he would play on a tin cracker can while accompanying his uncle, who played the cuatro. When Feliciano was five, his family moved to Spanish Harlem, New York City, and at nine he performed at the Teatro Puerto Rico in The Bronx.
Feliciano started his musical life playing the accordion until his father gave him, in a brown paper bag, his first guitar. He would play his guitar by himself in his room for up to 14 hours a day, and would listen to 1950s rock and roll, records of classical guitarists and jazz players. Andrés Segovia and Wes Montgomery were among his favorites. Feliciano later had classical lessons with Harold Morris, who had been a student of Segovia. In a 1969 interview, he also mentioned soul music in general, and Ray Charles in particular, as influences on his singing.
At 17, he quit school to play in clubs. He had his first professional, contracted performance in Detroit.
In 1963, after some live performances in pubs and clubs around the USA and Canada, especially in Greenwich Village, New York, and Vancouver, BC, where he played at the same time as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, he was signed by Jack Somer, an executive at RCA Victor. In 1964, he released his first single, "Everybody Do the Click" (which became a hit in the Philippines, at No. 2, staying 14 weeks in the TopTen Hit parade) and he was invited to the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. In 1965 and 1966, he released his first albums: The Voice and Guitar of Jose Feliciano and A Bag Full of Soul, two folk-pop-soul albums that showcased his talent on radios across the USA, where he was described as a "10-finger wizard".
In 1966, he went to Mar del Plata, Argentina, to perform at the Festival de Mar del Plata. There, he impressed RCA Victor officials, who asked him to stay and record an album in Spanish. They were unsure what they wanted to record so Feliciano suggested the bolero music of his parents. The result was two smash hits with the singles "Poquita Fe" ("Little Faith", also entitled "Sin Fe", or "Without Faith"), a song written by fellow Puerto Rican Bobby Capó, and "Usted" (the formal version of "you" in Spanish).
A year later, Feliciano was due to perform in the United Kingdom but the authorities would not allow his guide dog, Trudy, into the country unless she was quarantined for six months. The stringent quarantine measures of those days were intended to prevent the spread of rabies. Feliciano later wrote a song entitled "No Dogs Allowed" (becoming a Netherlands Top 10 hit in 1969), which told the story of his first visit to London.
During his British visit, on July 16, 1967, Feliciano gave a live performance on the pirate radio stations Radio 227 and Radio 355, on board the MV Laissez Faire off the British coast less than a month before the stations were due to be closed by the UK's Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. He also guested on a popular British television show with Dusty Springfield and recorded a rare single for RCA in England called "My Foolish Heart / Only Once" which was played on London radio. Earlier, on June 4, 1967, in London's Speakeasy Club, Jimi Hendrix came to the stage and complimented Feliciano on his extraordinary guitar work.
After two more successful albums, Feliciano, now a household name all over Latin America, moved to Los Angeles. He got together with RCA Victor producer Rick Jarrard who was, at the time, also producing Harry Nilsson and Jefferson Airplane. They recorded the Doors' song "Light My Fire" in a Latin style and released it as a single, and in the summer of 1968 it reached #3 on the US pop charts with over one million copies sold in the US market alone. The song became a #1 hit in many countries, including Canada, Brazil and the UK and was awarded a gold disc. On the strength of this success, Feliciano won two 1968 Grammy Awards for Best New Artist of the Year and Best Pop Song of the Year, bringing him worldwide recognition as a pop star and stylistic leader because of his "crossover" from Latino music to English-language pop rock. He is widely recognized as the first virtuoso classical guitarist to bring nylon-string guitars into the pop rock scene.
On October 7, 1968, at the height of protests against the Vietnam War, Feliciano was invited by Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Tiger Stadium in Detroit during Game 5 pre-game ceremonies of the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. His personalised, slow, Latin jazz performance proved highly controversial. In an October 2006 NPR broadcast, he expressed pride at opening the door for later interpretations of the national anthem. His World Series rendition, which features him accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, was released as a single that charted for five weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #50. That recording of the National Anthem is now on permanent exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
In 1969, working with Quincy Jones on the Mackenna's Gold movie soundtrack, he recorded popular theme song "Old Turkey Buzzard". Also that year, he appeared on numerous US television shows, performing duets with Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Bing Crosby, Glen Campbell, Andy Williams, and Diana Ross.
In 1970, Feliciano wrote and released an album of Christmas music, Feliz Navidad. The title song has been covered by many artists, becoming a traditional part of the musical landscape around the world at Christmas time. Each year, during the Christmas season, "Feliz Navidad" returns to the airwaves as one of the most-played and most-downloaded songs of the season. "Feliz Navidad" is also recognized by ASCAP as one of the 25 all-time most-played Christmas songs in the world. It is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In 1971, he traveled to Italy to participate in the Sanremo Music Festival, singing the song "Che Sarà" in Italian, earning second place in that contest along with a standing ovation from the Italian public. He later recorded the song, which became a success in Italy, and in much of Europe, including the Eastern Bloc countries, as well as in Asia. Feliciano later recorded it in Spanish as "Qué Será", which became a hit in Central and South America, and in English as "Shake a Hand", which was a hit in Scandinavian countries.
He wrote and performed the theme song to the 1970s comedy series Chico and the Man, and played a guest role on that series as the cousin of Chico (Freddie Prinze), singer Pepe Fernando. In the 1970s, he acted and composed for television series and movies including McMillan & Wife, Kung Fu, and the soundtrack for the 1976 movie Aaron Loves Angela. He has also been a guest performer on many albums by other artists, including Bill Withers's +'Justments, John Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll, Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, Michael Nesmith's Tantamount to Treason and has given concerts with Carlos Santana, Cat Stevens, and Paul Simon.
In 1975, on his last RCA album Just Wanna Rock'n'Roll Feliciano released his well-known jazz-funk-Latin instrumental composition "Affirmation", which was re-released one year later by jazz guitarist George Benson on his hit album Breezin'.
In early 1974, he played in Prague, Czechoslovakia, sharing the stage with Czech idol Karel Gott.
In 1979, he recorded a spontaneous version of his 1968 hit "Light My Fire", as a duet with rhythm and blues/pop singer Minnie Riperton. The duet was included on Riperton's final studio album for Capitol Records. Riperton died of cancer two months after its release. It has been said that the duet was unplanned, which is the reason Feliciano is not heard until the second half of the song. He and Riperton were friends and he just happened to be at the studio when it was being recorded and popped in.
During the 1980s, after a brief attempt at an English album produced by Berry Gordy, (Feliciano was a guest on the 1983 NBC television show Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever), record companies recognized his primary affinity for the Latin market, and he began recording a number of hit records for that market, including the Motown albums Escenas de Amor and Me Enamoré, as well as others from RCA, EMI, and Capitol, garnering four more Grammy Awards for best Latin performer. He recorded a duet called "Por Ella" with the most popular Mexican singer at the time, José José, which became a Latin hit. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, José recorded duets with Natalie Cole ("More Than the Stars" on her 1987 album Everlasting), Gloria Estefan ("Tengo Que Decirte algo" on her 2000 album Alma Caribeña), Chamaco Rivera ("Consuelo" on his 1984 album Por Fin), jazz singer Diane Schuur ("By Design" and "The Wedding Song" on her 1985 album Schuur Things), and Paul Simon ("Born in Puerto Rico" on his 1997 album Songs from The Capeman). In 1982, Feliciano played guitar on the DeBarge record All This Love.
Feliciano received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987, continuing as a very popular singer for the rest of the 1980s. He had his hands cast on the Madame Tussauds Museum's Wall of Fame and has a star on the Walk of Fame of his native Puerto Rico. He also had a hit in 1987 in Austria with the song "The Sound of Vienna", which reached number 1 there for 4 weeks, and recorded with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra also performed with him live on national television at Danube Park in Vienna before more than 60,000 people. Feliciano also released the cover version of Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting" in early 1990.
In 1994, Feliciano recorded a dance record in English entitled "Goin' Krazy" (MJM Records) under the pseudonym JR. Latino disk jockeys around the world supported the record, helping the 12-inch dance record chart on Billboard and earning him new and younger fans.
In 1995, Feliciano was honored by the City of New York, which renamed Public School 155 as the Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School. In 1996, he had a short cameo role in the film Fargo as a lounge singer.
Feliciano was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.
Feliciano performed the theme song "Behind the Mask" for the television series Queen of Swords in 2000. A promotional video sung in Spanish but never published can be found on YouTube. The full English version, never published, sung by Feliciano and the composers Spencer Proffer and Steve Plunkett is also on YouTube. He was presented the 2000 Grammy Legend Award at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards, the same ceremony that saw Santana win 9 Grammys and Christina Aguilera become the second Hispanic to win Best New Artist.
In 2000 Guitarra Mía, a special tribute to Feliciano, was produced by the Banco Popular de Puerto Rico and aired both in Puerto Rico and in US cities with large Puerto Rican populations. This television special (and its soundtrack) featured Feliciano and many Puerto Rican and international stars singing some of his most famous songs, along with his personal favorites from other artists. It was first aired in December 2000, just two days after his mother died unexpectedly from a heart attack. The special's last scenes featured her giving her son a standing ovation, recorded for the occasion a month before.
On December 6, 2006, Feliciano's new Spanish album, José Feliciano y Amigos, was released by Universal Records, featuring Feliciano in duets with other Latin American stars including Luis Fonsi, Lupillo Rivera, Luciano Pereyra, Rudy Pérez, Cristian Castro, Marc Anthony, Ramón Ayala, Alicia Villarreal, Ricardo Montaner, and Raúl di Blasio. A special edition was later released, featuring Ana Gabriel and Gloria Estefan.
In 2007, Feliciano released an album called Soundtrax of My Life, the first English-language album composed and written by him.
On October 16, 2007, Feliciano appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman to perform "Old Turkey Buzzard", the theme song from Mackenna's Gold. For several months prior, Letterman had been using a clip from the movie and song as a running gag.
In 2008, Feliciano, a practicing Roman Catholic, performed at the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium in New York.
In 2009, after winning his eighth Grammy for the album Señor Bolero, he left Siente Music and released two new English-language albums for digital download, only available from his personal websites. One was dedicated to American Classics, including songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, and the other was an instrumental album in homage to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who inspired Feliciano, and features Feliciano's song "Djangoisms". A single from the Kumbia All Starz features him and the Tejano band Los Dinos, released April 28, 2010.
On May 10, 2010, Feliciano performed his rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Comerica Park in Detroit. This was part of the remembrance of Detroit Tigers radio announcer Ernie Harwell, who had died the Tuesday before. He played it similarly to the way he had in 1968 with his acoustic guitar and his slow tempoed, Latin jazz style.
On December 15, 2010, Feliciano appeared as the featured guest on the 37th episode of Daryl Hall's Webbie-Award-winning webcast Live From Daryl's House. Feliciano and Hall took turns on several numbers, including Feliciano's version of "Light My Fire." On November 9, 2011, Feliciano received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
In January 2012, he was a guest in Memphis for the celebration of Elvis Presley's birthday, where he announced the release (on August 7, 2012) of his new album The King, a tribute to Elvis produced in collaboration with Elvis' former manager, George Klein and released by Johnny Phillips' Select-O-Hits label. In July 2012, he signed with managers MBM and Howard Perl of Howard Perl Management where on September 19, 2012, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, he was invited to sing "God Bless America" for the seventh-inning stretch of the New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium. Additionally, less than one month later, on October 14, 2012, Feliciano returned to baseball's post-season, and on national television, once again rendered his stylized version of the Star-Spangled Banner in San Francisco before the first game of the National League's Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
In November 2017, Feliciano released a new Jazz and R&B Album with UK Star musician Jools Holland and sold out a 33-date tour in Uk, Ireland and Scotland. The album became a hit and reached number 24 in the UK charts, the first time for an LP by José after his 1970 LP "Fireworks".
On September 9, 2018 Feliciano returned to Comerica Park in Detroit to perform The Star-Spangled Banner again for the celebration of the Detroit Tigers 1968 World Series Team.
José Feliciano met Susan Omillian, an art student, in Detroit, Michigan in August 1971. After becoming friends and dating for 11 years they married in 1982. They have three children: a daughter, Melissa, and two sons, Jonathan and Michael. Susan was raised in Detroit and met Ernie Harwell during the controversy over Feliciano's rendition of the National Anthem in 1968. It was Harwell who later introduced her to Feliciano.
In December 2009 a parody of "Feliz Navidad" entitled "The Illegal Alien Christmas Song" was created by radio producers Matt Fox and A. J. Rice and posted on the website for Human Events, a Washington-based weekly publication. The parody, sung in English, played on the stereotype of Mexican immigrants as heavy drinkers and that illegal immigrants were going to "spread bubonic plague".
Feliciano released a statement on December 23 on his official website:
"This song has always been a bridge to the cultures that are so dear to me, never as a vehicle for a political platform of racism and hate. It's disgusting and my only wish that my song and I are distanced from the whole affair as soon as possible."
In a statement to the Associated Press the same day, Jed Babbin, Human Events site editor, apologized for "any offense that Mr. Feliciano may have taken from this parody" and removed it from the site.
In Ponce, he is recognized at the Illustrious Ponce Citizens Plaza of the Parque del Tricentenario.
In 1996, Feliciano was awarded the El Premio Billboard.
He was also awarded the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
In 2000, Feliciano was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.
He was also inducted into the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013.
a reimagined version of the single
featuring David Bratton and the Virginia Union University Choir
featuring “The Chain” (Fleetwood Mac)
and the latest single “I’m America”
November 5, 2021 - THE CLARION at BRAZOSPORT COLLEGE
Lake Jackson, TX
for ticket info, go here
November 6, 2021 - THE BARNHILL CENTER/THE HISTORIC SIMON THEATRE
for more about the historic SIMON THEATRE, visit here…
Postponed due to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and possible Tsunami until further notice*
November 12, 2021 - Plaza de America
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
JOSE FELICIANO en ICOD DE LOS VINOS TENERIFE
Postponed due to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and possible Tsunami until further notice*
November 13, 2021 - PABELLÓN de DEPORTES de Santa Cruz de TENERIFE
Islas Canarias - Spain
November 27th, 2021 - LEHMAN CENTER for the PERFORMING ARTS
The Bronx, NY
Feliciano & his Bandreturn to the Lehman !
Celebrate Thanksgiving’s Family Weekend! ticket information
November 30, 2021 - RIDGEFIELD PLAYHOUSE
an important event in support of anti-trafficking of human beings today
for more info, visit Traffick Jam Live
December 4, 2021 - The MARCUS PAC
for ticket info and more, go here!
December 11, 2012 - Auditorio Bellas Artes
Caguas, Puerto Rico
more info coming soon!
December 17, 2021 -Saban Theatre
Beverly Hills, CA
for tickets, go here!
December 18, 2021 - Spotlight Casino
for tickets, go here!
December 19, 2021 - Oxnard Performing Arts Center
info to follow…
January 1-2, 2022 - SeaWorld
info to follow…
January 22, 2022 - Victoria Symphony
VICTORIA FINE ARTS CENTER
for information and tickets, visit here!
February 18, 2022 - CENTRAL PARK PAC
ticket info and more go here…
February 19, 2022 - KNIGHT CONCERT HALL
for more info and tickets, go here!
April 30, 2022 - NEW ORLEANS JAZZ&HERITAGE FESTIVAL
New Orleans, LA
for some preliminary info on the New Orleans
Jazz &Heritage Festival, visit here!
May 19, 2022 - Rye Jazz Festival
more info will follow!
June 3, 2022 - LEVOY THEATRE
more about the LEVOY will follow…
June 4, 2022 - RAM’S HEAD ON STAGE
more info to follow…
June 5, 2022 - The BIRCHMERE
for more on the legendary Birchmere, visit here…
June 10, 2022 - CITY WINERY
for ticket info and more, go here!
June 12 & 13, 2022 - CITY WINERY
New York City, NY
for info and more on The WINERY NYC, go here!
August 20, 2022 - WESTON FINE ARTS FEST
a little bit about last year’s festival (its 1st annual!), is right here!
More events are on the horizon…so please, visit often!
Official Music Video For Re-Imagined "Feliz Navidad 50th Anniversary (FN50)" Releases Worldwide Today Through Anthem Records
Video Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of José Feliciano's Holiday Classic "Feliz Navidad" And Features Diverse Roster Of Over 30 Superstar Artists Including José Feliciano, Jon Secada, Jason Mraz, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Big & Rich, Shaggy, Michael Bolton, Among Many Others
Groundbreaking Video Shot During Global COVID Pandemic And Features State-Of-The-Art Animation And Special Effects To Create A Virtual Global Recording Studio, Giving The Illusion That Each Artist Is Recording In Rooms Next To Each Other…
December 24, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: ANTHEM RECORDS KICKS OFF GLOBAL CELEBRATION OF JOSÉ FELICIANO’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY FOR HIS HOLIDAY CLASSIC “FELIZ NAVIDAD”
Today Anthem Records released global icon José Feliciano’s newly reimagined re-recording of his bilingual hit holiday song, “Feliz Navidad” titled “Feliz Navidad 50th Anniversary (FN50)”. Produced by Grammy award-winning international producer, Rudy Pérez, José and 30 artists and celebrities from around the world remotely joined forces to create this special celebratory track of his timeless holiday classic. See below for the full star-studded list of guest artists and celebrities. The Amazon Original “Feliz Navidad 50th Anniversary (FN50)” is available now exclusively on Amazon Music.
November 19, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jose Celebrates…
José Feliciano celebrates the 50th Anniversary of “Feliz Navidad” with events this Fall including a new children’s book José Feliciano's Feliz Navidad, 50th Anniversary available now exclusively via Amazon, new documentary “José Feliciano: Behind This Guitar” premieres at the Nashville Film Festival October 1-7, 2020
Sep 10, 2020
featuring “The Chain” (Fleetwood Mac)
and the latest single “I’m America”
How Jose Feliciano’s ‘Feliz Navidad’ Got an Epic Reimagining for Its 50th Anniversary
José Feliciano readily admits he wasn’t thinking of writing a Christmas classic 50 years ago when, almost on the fly, he first sang: “Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad.”
It happened during a recording session for a Christmas album with Rick Jarrard, who would become his trusted producer and friend over the years. At the time, it was Jarrard who floated the idea of a Christmas song in Spanish. And Feliciano, in the middle of recording in the summer, wrote what would become one of the most enduring Christmas songs of all time.
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“It just came to me; there’s no rhyme or reason,” he says today. “The first lyric came to me, then I put the English lyric into it, not realizing I had made it the only bilingual Christmas song ever in the world. I created a monster.”
As “Feliz Navidad” turns 50 this year, it remains one of the top 10-performing hits in the decade-plus history of Billboard‘s Holiday 100 chart. It has drawn 3.8 billion in cumulative radio audience and 306 million on-demand streams and sold 925,000 downloads in the U.S. through Nov. 12, 2020, since Nielsen Music/MRC Data began tracking each metric.
The simple ditty, crafted literally in minutes, has indeed become a monster at a global scale.
“‘Feliz Navidad’ is a beloved holiday favorite for listeners around the world. Over the last year it was performed in nearly 90 countries, from Argentina to Canada, Norway, Israel, South Africa, India, Japan and New Zealand, to name a few,” says Gabriela Gonzalez, ASCAP’S VP of Latin Membership for U.S. Latin & Latin America.
That it happens to be a bilingual song in Spanish and English at a time when music in Spanish is getting unprecedented attention made the notion of revamping it 50 years later all that more appealing. And so, on Nov. 20, Feliciano released his first-ever revamped version of “Feliz Navidad” featuring 30 artists representing a multiplicity of genres and styles. They include CNCO, Isabela Merced, Shaggy, Jon Secada, Jason Mraz, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Rachael Ray, Gloria Gaynor, Big & Rich, Michael Bolton, Los Temerarios, Sam Moore and Styx.
Produced by longtime friend and producer Rudy Pérez, “Feliz Navidad 50th Anniversary (FN50)” was released by Anthem Records as an Amazon exclusive that lives in a special Jose Feliciano Feliz Navidad Amazon hub that also houses a Feliz Navidad children’s book, a stuffed bear called “José Bear” and other merchandise including T-shirts.
The track was recorded in July, in the middle of the pandemic, but had been planned since last year.
“I was mulling for the last couple of years how could we celebrate ‘Feliz Navidad’’s 50 years,” says Anthem Entertainment CEO Helen Murphy, who signed Feliciano to Anthem Records in 2018.
Things clicked in her mind when she read The Latin Hit Maker, the 2019 memoir written by producer Rudy Pérez in which he talks extensively of Feliciano and the influence he had on his career. When she ran into Pérez a few months later, she said: “I can’t believe how profound an effect José had on you. Let’s do something together.”
That something morphed into a “Feliz Navidad” remake and it snowballed from there. “We were all sick and tired of COVID, and here is Jose going to the studio at 75 years old. I said, ‘You know what? The world needs a celebration. Let’ s do a celebration track on top of the amazing vocals.’ And people flooded in.”
The resulting track is surprising; so simple and yet complex, as every voice individually comes in.
“I enjoy working with Rudy, but I always do,” says Feliciano, who recorded remotely. “Rudy and I had some of the best Latin albums anywhere. I learned to become a better writer because of Rudy.”
Once the track was done, after Labor Day, Murphy approached Amazon.
“As an independent company producing a lot of content, we needed one place to launch an integrated campaign for ‘Feliz Navidad,’” she explains. Products include the aforementioned José Bear, and also, a beautiful children’s book, José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad 50th Anniversary, written by Murphy herself and illustrated by Brandon Wei.
The final touch is a “Feliz Navidad” livestream event that will be held Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. ET, for which tickets are available at FelizNavidad50th.com. Featured guest artists include Haley Reinhart and Kalsey Kulyk.
It will be a welcome respite for Feliciano, who usually tours during Christmas. This year, though, he’ll spend it with his family and has plans to cook what he calls a “Pavechón”: turkey (pavo is turkey in Spanish) cooked with the same condiments as a traditional Puerto Rican lechon.
As far as gifts go, “I have everything,” says Feliciano. “All I want is for my wife to give me another 40-something years together.”
You can listen to the new version of “Feliz Navidad” here:
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Last Christmas was dire, with inconsistent government advice, regional lockdowns, and a ban on seeing family. Yet I hope that you all, like me, tried to make the most of it and found the holiday spirit with a few of the staple festive bangers – a bit of Wham, Mariah Carey, Dean Martin, and all the other classics. However, even this didn’t quite fulfil the anticipated Christmas cheer we all have come to expect. It’s no surprise really… Our attempt to gain some semblance of joy from overworked plastic trinkets and fairy lights has always left me feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled… But hey, that’s just me.
On the night before Christmas, however, I snuggled up to my warm fireplace, mince pie in hand, and demanded “Alexa – shuffle Christmas songs”, hoping that the last piece of the jigsaw would fall into place for the festivities the next day. I suppose Alexa sensed the yearning for something wholesome and delivered a present early, as the insanely talented José Feliciano was gifted to my ears, a blasting of the simple yet passionate ‘Feliz Navidad’ which – 50 years after its initial release – felt like the perfect remedy to end the year. The bilingual guitarist wishes us all a ‘Merry Christmas from the bottom of [his] heart’ and warms the soul with enchanting Latin melodies and catchy lyrics, releasing wholesome waves of hypnotic festivity and uplifts the mood all the way from the depths of Scrooge to the euphoric heights of Will Ferrell’s Elf.
But who is this man who has brought so much festivity to the world? José Feliciano is a blind, Puerto Rican, Grammy-award-winning artist whose musical virtuosity isn’t limited to Christmas hits. Initially finding fame with a cover for ‘Light My Fire’ by The Doors, he’s gone on to release 56 studio albums over a 60 year career, providing latin flair over such American styles as blues, folk and jazz. His unique covers also provide a remarkable dimension to his oeuvre, producing entertaining versions of classics such as Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ and more recently Fleetwood Mac’s hit ‘The Chain’ on his 2020 album Behind This Guitar.
It was ultimately Feliciano’s latin melodies and simple yet direct refrains that proved to be the soulful soundtrack I needed, the one that hit the spot between the cheesy commercial Christmas-pop and festive sincerity. Although one could suggest a lack of substance to a song that has 4 lines over a 3-minute track, Feliciano makes up for the scantness with infectious enthusiasm, his mantra-like insistence convincing you that he truly does ‘wish you a Merry Christmas’.
It is not just his festive hit that stands out as a hallmark of wholesomeness, however. Whether it be his innovative covers, progressive albums or latin singles, his songs display the power of music when it comes from a good place – in this case a 75-year-old Puerto Rican and his guitar. Feliciano embodies an attitude that we should all aspire to, an outward positivity that encourages the prosperity of others and a happiness within ourselves – a type of person that today’s world of polarising turmoil could learn and immeasurably benefit from.