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Song of the Day for October 7: "Star Spangled Banner" with Jose Feliciano

Jose Feliciano
Jose Feliciano sings the national anthem before the Detroit Tigers-New York Yankees baseball game in Detroit, Monday, May 10, 2010. The Tigers paid tribute to the hall of fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell by raising a white flag with his initials and inviting his friend Feliciano to sing at the first game at Comerica Park since Harwell died. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


The story of Jose Feliciano and the “Star Spangled Banner” is a lesson in how times have changed. Feliciano innocently created a controversy when he sang the national anthem on October 7, 1968 at game five of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Tiger radio announcer Ernie Harwell was responsible for selecting the performers to sing the anthem in Detroit. He invited big band singer Margaret Whiting for Game Three and Motown artist Marvin Gaye for Game Four.

Feliciano had a hit single in 1968, with a reinterpretation of the Doors’ “Light My Fire.” He flew into Detroit from Las Vegas and arrived just before game time. The blind singer sat with his seeing eye dog Trudy in centerfield, as he played the song on his acoustic guitar.

Feliciano used a slower tempo, stressing some words and adding extra syllables to others. VintageDetroit.com would later describe it as “soft and soothing, almost reverent.”

Those watching on television and in the stadium thought it was irreverent. The reaction was immediate. Fans booed. The switchboards lit up at NBC, the network showing the game, and Tiger Stadium. In the aftermath, Feliciano’s music was blackballed on many radio stations. RCA didn’t waste time, it released the song, and it reached number 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Feliciano couldn’t understand the reaction. He was a Puerto Rican immigrant who loved America. The song was his tribute. The controversy faded with time. Other singers followed with their own renditions at sporting events. Feliciano finally returned to sing it again in Detroit on May 10, 2010, six days after Harwell died of cancer.

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