Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Susan_and_JoseSusan and José Feliciano

Last year marked the 40th anniversary of José Feliciano’s number one hit and holiday classic "Feliz Navidad" – named one of the 25 greatest holiday songs of the century by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

But, for the musician and entertainer who, with his wife Susan and three children, calls Connecticut home, the achievement is just one of many that mark the career of this legend that some acclaim as "the greatest living guitarist."

With 70 albums to his credit – earning him more than 45 gold and platinum albums plus eight Grammy awards – the longevity and vitality of Mr. Feliciano’s music is hard to match.

"What keeps me occupied … what keeps me busy is music," said the international recording star from his studio in a historic, converted 1700s tavern on the Saugatuck River where the family lives.

"I write music for whatever. I just write … anywhere from an hour to six hours, or into the evening," he told The Catholic Transcript on the same day that his latest album, "The Genius of José Feliciano, Vol. II," was released.

"I try to think of it still as a hobby," he reflected. "That way I don’t lose whatever feeling I have for it."

Born poor, blind and sickly into a family of 11 children 65 years ago in Puerto Rico, Mr. Feliciano today has become a crossover superstar in both the Latin and English music industries, performing with symphonies and on concert stages around the globe.

As early as age 6, he began drumming on a can before learning the accordion that his mother loved; then moved on to the guitar and, later, the bass electric guitar, mandolin, trumpet, keyboard and violin.

When he’s not traveling, fellow parishioners at Assumption Parish in Westport have welcomed his performances at the Christmas Vigil Mass over the years; and appreciated his help when the couple pitched in to raise funds for a new organ.

Susan, who home-schools the children, also serves as a catechist at the parish.

"I love, love, love the Eucharist and being able to share that with the children," said Susan, who met José in 1971 at age 14, when she started his fan club. They married in 1982 and moved to Connecticut after she read about a historic property in Yankee Magazine, the Banks Tavern, built in 1730, which they renovated.

"I’m also so in love with Our Lady’s rosary," she said, "that I’ve devised a little booklet or coloring book with meditations on each of the decades for the children. I think of it as her photo book, and I’m loving it."

The couple met shortly after José sang the National Anthem in Detroit for game five of the 1968 World Series, she recalled. He sang in a soulful, personalized style for which he took a lot of criticism at the time; but which other stars now copy.

Another chance exchange that developed into a friendship was their meeting Sister Marie Roccapriore of the Religious Teachers Filippini, director of religious education at St. Thomas Parish in Southington.

Sister Marie was just getting a ministry she started – Spirit Joy Children’s Music – off the ground on a radio program when she met Susan and José 15 years ago. They have since helped her produce two CDs and a DVD of Spirit Joy’s music (www.spiritjoy.org).

"She is my best friend," said Susan of Sister Marie. "We’re family. She’s my spiritual advisor, my confidante, my friend. I see God in her. She’s it. I love her."

As cradle Catholics, the couple puts an emphasis on faith, family and friends in their life. "That’s everything for us," said Susan. "In that order. When people go into a marriage, it’s not a contract, it’s a covenant. And that’s what our marriage is for us. We’ve been very blessed.

"We try to spend as much time as possible together as a family," said Susan. "José travels a lot, I have my teaching and the children have school. But Sunday night, we have family dinner together which is non-negotiable."

Noting that his busy career and international travel put pressure on family time, Mr. Feliciano reflected, "I have three wonderful children and a good wife and it gives me a different perspective on how I use my time."

"God is very important in my life," he said.

"My mother raised me as a Catholic," he said, "and I think God has been wonderful to me. I know I can never pay him back for all he’s given me."

Mr. Feliciano’s awards include Billboard Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award and a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, His chart-topping recording of "Light My Fire" catapulted him to pop superstardom in 1968. A mega-success for him in Europe, Asia and South America is "Che Será."

He has had acting roles on such hit TV shows as "Chico and the Man," "Kung Fu" and "McMillan and Wife"; and made a cameo appearance in the 1995 motion picture "Fargo."

When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States in April 2008, Mr. Feliciano was among artists who participated in the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium. He performed the song "Lean on Me."