José Feliciano's iconic 'Feliz Navidad' turns 50 — and celebrates with a new version

"I don't know how 'Feliz Navidad' became such a favorite," Feliciano said of his Christmas classic. "I think, because it has that Puerto Rican feeling."
Image: Jose Feliciano
Singer Jose Feliciano performs at the 2019 Gershwin Prize Honoree's Tribute Concert at DAR Constitution Hall on March 13, 2019, in Washington.Shannon Finney / Getty Images file

José Feliciano's bilingual Christmas classic "Feliz Navidad" is one of those iconic soundtracks that's become just part of the holiday season.

The song continues to land on Billboard charts and permeates holiday music streaming playlists, more than five decades after he composed it.

"While my little carol is all about Christmas, November is particularly special to me this year, because it marks the 50th Anniversary of the release of my “Jose Feliciano” Christmas Album for RCA Records – including the Feliz Navidad track," Feliciano tweeted last week.

To mark the 50th anniversary of “Feliz Navidad,” he is releasing a new version of the song Friday featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jason Mraz, Shaggy and other artists.

Pop balladeer Michael Bolton, Latin boy band CNCO, country duo Big & Rich, and Mexican singer and actress Patricia Manterola are among the 30 acts who teamed up remotely for the reimagined track, which is being released by Amazon Music.

“The idea of ‘Feliz Navidad’ was to try and unite the people,” the nine-time Grammy winner from Puerto Rico said. “My thought when I wrote the song was that it didn’t matter what language you were singing in, the feeling of Christmas is privy to all of us.”

Earlier this month, Feliciano recalled a conversation he had with his music producer Rick Jarrard while they were working on his 1970 self-titled holiday album, later renamed “Feliz Navidad.”

"When recording my Christmas album, Rick Jarrard told me: 'Jose, we should have an original on the album.' But he thought it would be tough to compete with 'White Christmas' and 'Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree!'⁣ Then I started singing "Feliz Navidad," Feliciano tweeted.

The 75-year-old singer-songwriter came up with minimalist but catchy lyrics for his renowned Christmas classic. With just 19 words, six in Spanish and 14 in English, he was able to captivate millions worldwide while also paying tribute to his Puerto Rican roots by incorporating the cuatro, an instrument that derives from the guitar and is at the center of Puerto Rico's festive holiday caroling tradition, known as parrandas.

Since then, the tune has charted on the Billboard Hot 100 repeatedly over the years, and has become one of the most played and recorded Christmas songs around the world.

"I don't know how 'Feliz Navidad' became such a favorite," Feliciano told the Recording Academy recently. "I think, because it has that Puerto Rican feeling."

"No radio station could turn me off on the grounds that it was too Spanish, or let's say, the Latino community, couldn't say, 'It was too much English and we can't play it.' So they're stuck," he said.

A documentary about Feliciano, who has been blind since birth, is expected to be released next year. “Behind This Guitar” follows his journey from poverty in Puerto Rico and New York to performing at the Vatican’s Christmas celebration.

“The cards that were given to me were not such great cards to deal with,” Feliciano said. “I came from a foreign land, I had no vision, or at least I thought I didn’t — until I found out that I did have a vision and that I saw things the way they should be seen.”

Feliciano will also host a virtual concert from his home in Connecticut on Dec. 20 featuring “Feliz Navidad” and his versions of other Christmas carols.

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The Associated Press contributed.