Jose Does That Star-Spangled Banner

From Duncan Werner comes a link to an old memory — the story of Jose Feliciano’s performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at a World Series game between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals, way back in 1968.

I was just twelve years old at the time, but I certainly had my ear to the ground as far as music was concerned, and already knew Jose Feliciano from his wildly successful version of the Doors’ Light My Fire. The world, of course, was going crazy: Vietnam, where the Tet Offensive had taken place in January, and the My Lai massacre in March, was polarizing the nation; Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated; Mayor Daley’s cops were cracking skulls at Chicago’s Democratic National Convention; the Beatles had just released the “White Album”, and the Stones, Beggar’s Banquet (I still think that’s the best Stones album of all). A B-52 had crashed in Greenland, spilling four hydrogen bombs, and the nuclear submarine Scorpion had sunk off the Azores. North Korea had seized the naval vessel Pueblo, the reform government of Alexander Dubček in Czechoslovakia was ruthlessly crushed by the Soviets, and Saddam Hussein took over Iraq’s Revolutionary Council in a coup d’etat. It was Us and Them everywhere you looked. Feds and heads. Better dead than Red. Hippies, yippies, hardhats, rednecks. Sinatra. Hendrix.

What a year.

Onto this stage, before millions of Americans who were trying to forget about all of the change boiling all around them and spend an afternoon enjoying a timeless and pastoral American tradition, walked young Jose, thrilled to be given the chance to express, by singing our national anthem, his gratitude to America for the bounty it had given him. He sang it in his own way, of course; I expect that to him the beauty of America, as it is for so many who did not grow up here, is that it invites everyone from everywhere to come and be an American in his or her own way. But his interpretation of the song was not well received — to put it mildly — and it took months for the noise to die down. Perhaps the atmosphere that year was simply so charged that it was just imposssible to say or do anything uncontroversial.

Anyway, I think it’s a lovely rendition, sincere and touching in that ingenuous Feliciano way. You can read the story here, and have a listen here.

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2 Comments

  1. the one eyed man says

    So that’s why it starts with “Jose can you see?”

    Posted November 4, 2006 at 12:25 am | Permalink
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