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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will recognize the contributions of Grammy Award-winning musician José Feliciano to American music and culture during a naturalization and donation ceremony June 14, Flag Day. The public ceremony takes place at 11 a.m. in the museum’s Flag Hall, which houses the Star-Spangled Banner gallery. The ceremony is in partnership with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
During the naturalization ceremony, 20 candidates for American citizenship from 17 countries will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. Feliciano will provide the keynote address, donate artifacts to the national collection and perform the national anthem. The museum will offer voter registration from noon to 2 p.m. in partnership with HeadCount, a nonpartisan organization that works with musicians to promote participation in U.S. democracy.
Feliciano was born Sept. 10, 1945, in Lares, Puerto Rico, with congenital glaucoma, resulting in permanent blindness. At age 5, Feliciano’s family moved to New York City. He first displayed his musical talent by playing the accordion until his father presented him with his first guitar. On Oct. 7, 1968, Feliciano performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium during the 1968 World Series. His personalized, slow, Latin jazz performance drew attention—both positive and negative. Feliciano’s rendition was the first to attract national attention to a new way of rendering the anthem and preceded the attention Jimi Hendrix attracted for his 1969 Woodstock performance. It set off an enduring tradition in which national anthem performances by pop performers would spark national conversations on how the anthem should be performed. Feliciano’s version, released as a single, charted for five weeks on Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 50.
“Today, personalized renditions of the national anthem are familiar to audiences,” said Culture and the Arts Curator John Troutman. “But in 1968, they were unheard of and often deemed unpatriotic. Feliciano’s donation helps illustrate the song’s use in popular culture.”
Feliciano will gift the museum his Concerto Candelas guitar, built for him in 1967, and used on his breakout album Feliciano, which included his iconic song “Light My Fire.” He played this same guitar during his 1968 World Series performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.” He will also donate his performance stool with which he toured and recorded for decades, his Braille writer on which he and his wife Susan produced documents and letters for many years, a personalized pair of sunglasses and an embroidered letter from one of his fans in Japan.
Among his many achievements, Feliciano is best known for his rendition of “Light My Fire” and the best-selling single “Feliz Navidad,” which was named to the top 25 Christmas songs of all time. He also wrote and performed the theme song of the 1970s American comedy series Chico and the Man. Feliciano was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987 and presented with a Billboard Latin Music Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. He has recorded more than 60 albums, including 45 gold and platinum records worldwide.
The naturalization ceremony will conclude with Feliciano’s performance of the national anthem. The National Museum of American History is the home of the Star-Spangled Banner—the actual flag Francis Scott Key saw flying over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in 1814 when he penned the words that would later become the national anthem.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. It is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu.
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