On Saturday, August 3, 2013, Jose Feliciano performed at the Forum in Harrisburg, as part of his World Tour 2013, with special guest, Amaryllis Santiago, a local recording artist. Upon seeing an ad for the concert in a local newspaper, Vision Resources Development Director, Paul Zavinsky, contacted Amaryllis in an effort to learn more. The call resulted in VIP passes for some of our Board Members and Executive Director, as well as an opportunity for one of us to attend the press conference the same afternoon. Paul, being a musician himself, was crushed that he would be out of town and unable to participate in either activity, but personally, I was thrilled at the opportunity to attend the press conference myself, and bring my 17 year old son, Brett, who wishes to pursue music in college next year.
What comes to mind when you hear the name Jose Feliciano? Latin…Feliz Navidad…Grammy Award winner…blind man? I did my research on this man and was beyond impressed. Several bios, press releases, Wikipedia and more all gave an account of his 50 year career full accomplishments and awards. He broke through barriers as a young man, bridging the musical gap between the Latin and English speaking cultures, opening doors for others who hoped to pursue a similar path. I learned of his 17 Grammy Nominations and 9 Grammy Awards as well as the Laras Lifetime Achievement Award. Jose has been inducted into the Guitar Player Magazine’s Gallery of the Greats and also received Billboard Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award. As of 2013, a star on the Hollywood Boulevard also bears his name. Not to be single minded, but where in all of this information was the part about his struggles due to being born blind from congenital glaucoma?
As I waited for the press conference to begin, I watched reporters and photographers take their places. Accompanied by his sighted guide, his wife of 31 years, Jose Feliciano made his way in to the room. He welcomed us with kindness and humor, and began taking questions systematically from one end of the room to the other. It was difficult to tell if anyone else was touching on the subject of his sight as about 75% of the questions and answers were spoken in Spanish, (so much for my 4 years of French in high school and 4 years of German for Brett), but from a word here or there that I was able to follow, every questions was about his tour, latest works and the Latin Community. The event was running 25 minutes longer than planned and I was sitting at the last table to be addressed, but finally it was my turn. I introduced myself and Vision Resources briefly, then asked, “Mr. Feliciano, clients come through our doors everyday with goals and dreams they feel cannot be fulfilled due to their visual impairment. What advice would you offer them?” “It’s not true”, was his response. Waiting and hoping there was more, he added, “the sighted community can help us be more sighted. Why aren’t there Braille labels on my vitamin bottle and other items at the grocery store?” Rather speechless, I thanked him for the reply. I suppose it hadn’t occurred to Jose Feliciano that his blindness would limit his success. Why had that occurred to me? I work for an agency that supports and promotes independence and opportunities for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
A tour representative stood and said, “well if there are no further questions…”. Then the male voice next to me spoke up, “Mr. Feliciano, you are quoted as saying, ‘music heals’, I am interested in studying Music Therapy in college. Do you really believe that music can heal the mind and body?” He smiled, “I believe it does, it helped me as a kid. I listened to Ray Charles and other singers all the time. Music is very therapeutic, most definitely it heals.”
Cheryl Cuddy, Special Events Coordinator
Brett and I on route to the press conference
Jose Feliciano and Amaryllis Santiago answer questions