Feliciano was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, one of eleven sons.
He was first exposed to music at age three and would play on a tin cracker can while accompanying his uncle playing the Cuatro.
When he was five, his family moved to Spanish Harlem, New York City, and at age nine, he played the Teatro Puerto Rico in the Bronx.
He started his musical life playing the accordion until his father and family friend, Benjamin Borges, gave him his first guitar in a brown paper bag. He played every chance he had by himself in his room for up to 14 hours a day listening to 1950s rock'n'roll records, classical guitarists such as Andrés Segovia, and jazz players such as Wes Montgomery. He later had classical lessons with Harold Morris, who earlier had been a student of Segovia. At 17, he quit school to play in clubs, having his first professional, contracted performance in Detroit.
In 1970, he wrote and released an album of Christmas music, Feliz Navidad, which may be deemed to be his most famous recording. The title song has been covered by many artists and is now a traditional part of the musical landscape in the U.S, Canada and Latin America around Christmas time. Each year during the Christmas season, "Feliz Navidad" returns to US airwaves, one of the most-played and most-downloaded radio songs and downloaded songs of the season. "Feliz Navidad" is also recognized by ASCAP as one of the 25 all-time most-played Christmas songs in the world.
Click to listen: José Feliciano - Feliz Navidad