Jose Feliciano Played The National Anthem At The 1968 World Series, And Nearly Wrecked His Career

By | October 5, 2020

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Puerto Rican musician and singer Jose Feliciano performs live on stage in 1968. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

In 1968, Jose Feliciano was on top of the world. He had a #3 hit with his cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire," and he had the #2 album in the country, but on October 7 all of the goodwill he accrued with his flamenco-folk take on American pop music was nearly lost forever after a disastrous performance of the National Anthem before game five of the World Series in Detroit.

The disaster that we're talking about here wasn't Feliciano's rendition of the National Anthem, but the response to his soulful, folky take on the song that's played before every sporting event in America. At the time there were hippies in the streets protesting against the Vietnam War, the Haight was exploding with free love, and here comes this blind Puerto Rican singer who slows down what was apparently All-American sports fan's favorite song in 1968 and turns it into a folked out hippie groove.

Jose Feliciano turned Game Five of the 1968 World Series upside down

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source: YouTube

In 1968, Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell was tasked with booking acts to sing to the National Anthem before the game. Harwell says that the onus of booking opening acts was on him because he was an aspiring singer-songwriter, so if anyone in the Tiger dugout was keyed into the music scene it was him. Games three, four, and five were booked to be played in Detroit and Harwell did his best to book artists that reflected a diverse set of tastes, but it turned out that his taste was just too diverse for sports fans in 1968.

Game three saw Detroit native Margaret Whiting, a nightclub singer, open the game with a classic version of the song, and game four had none other than Marvin Gaye opening the festivities. According to Harwell, he was asked to make sure that Gaye sang the song "straight," without putting too much soul into the track, which is honestly such a strange request. However, for game five, Harwell booked a singer that he only knew about tangentially. He told WBUR that he'd only heard about the blind Puerto Rican singer songwriter, but he didn't know that Feliciano had a rebellious streak.