The day this Puerto Rican changed Baseball…

It was on this day in 1968 when Jose Feliciano performed a controversial version of The Star Spangled Banner before the fifth game of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. As a result of his slow, Bluesy delivery, many radio stations refused to play his songs, and his career suffered dramatically!

In 1968, a rising Puerto Rican pop star, José Feliciano, was asked to sing the anthem before Game 5 of the World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Detroit Tigers in Tiger Stadium.

At that time, Feliciano had a hit single with his cover of The Doors’ Light My Fire. The world seemed to be changing very quickly; there was a lot of focus on what the media was calling the Youth Movement.

Back then, the anthem was generally performed by popular musicians of stage and screen, or talented first-responders and members of the military, always in a very straightforward way.

Feliciano’s gentle, Latin jazz-infused version puzzled some people. And it outraged others.

After I sang it, it was really strange to hear me being booed, as well as yay’d, and I didn’t know what happened,” he recalled during one of his final interviews before his death in 2014…

A Tigers official told him the club’s phones were lighting up with angry calls from around the country: “Some veterans were taking off their shoes and throwing them at their television screens,” he was told.

While some fans enjoyed this different version, many older ones and veterans thought it was disrespectful. At a time when the U.S. was torn apart over the country’s involvement in Vietnam. Perception counted, and some people perceived Feliciano’s anthem as a protest.

He insists it was the exact opposite: “I did it to show my appreciation to America for what they had done for me. I love this country.”

Commercial radio blackballed him. “I was a little depressed, to tell you the truth,” Feliciano admits. His career had just taken off — “And then they stopped playing me. Like I had the plague, or something.”

But he still played concerts on college campuses, and gigged in jazz clubs and music festivals around the country. He continued to cut records (notably his holiday classic, Feliz Navidad.)

And while he was doing that, something else happened: José Feliciano’s improvisation on the anthem opened the door to a bunch of other people with their own versions: Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969. Marvin Gaye at the NBA All Star Game in 1983. Garth Brooks. Billy Joel. Beyonce. Lady Gaga. And Whitney Houston’s now-iconic performance in 1991 at the height of the first Gulf War, complete with a flyover of four F-16 fighter jets. (Cher even paid homage to it eight years later.)

Feliciano is philosophical about the evolution. “The only thing I can say about all these versions is they wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t done it — and I’m glad that I did.”

Here’s José…






  1. “The only way you”ll take my gun is to pry it from my cold stiff dead hand”!
    AHAAA….Charlon Heston. And oh what battles are always fought to change the status quo for progress to improve our lives
    EXCEPT “ROSIE O’DONNALD’S trashing the whole event!!

  2. Rick, thanks as always. I am sitting here reading this article, getting ready to defy the covid and have lunch with a group of friends who have been together over the ages, appropriately distances of course. And this will certainly give us something to talk about. Thank you for bringing things into context, and reminding us all when truly revolutionary events have taken place, and we were only thinking, huh? Just another artistic departure, from just another artist. Thank you for pointing out the “Bunker Hill” moments when the first shots were fired, and heroes should be honored.

    • Hey Curtis,
      And I recall the controversy and all I could think was “What the hell”? And least we forget his version of “Light My Fire” which was shooting up the charts as he was being boo’d at The World Series performance!
      In a way “Some things never change!
      Thank you Curtis…

  3. Hey Rick,

    Not to be picky, but Game 5 was on October 7. Here’s an extract from Jose’s Wikipedia page:
    Feliciano’s “Star-Spangled Banner”

    On October 7, 1968, at the height of protests against the Vietnam War, Feliciano was invited by Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Tiger Stadium in Detroit during Game 5 pre-game ceremonies of the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. His personalized, slow, Latin jazz performance proved highly controversial and damaging to Jose’s career in the months, even years, that followed. In an October 2006 NPR broadcast, however, he expressed pride at being the one to open the door for artists who could later interpret the nation’s anthem. His World Series rendition, which features Feliciano accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, was released as a single that charted for 5 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 50; the first time the United States’ anthem appeared on the American music charts. That recording of the national anthem is now on permanent exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

    • Hey Owen,
      Yeah you’re right! I wrote the piece on the 7th, but as I was putting the finishing touches on it, I ran into a problem posting the video performance! Had to call on my Tech guy first thing in the morning. We got it done, we were just a little more than 7 hrs. Late
      But, thanx as always for your keen attention to detail

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