It’s important to know who we are, from whom and from where we were formed… by telling the stories ourselves, we see an example of how to live, how to inspire and how to honor our ancestors, Aguanile, Mai, Mai… Gracias Profe. Evo!
Posting from the DMV, Thursday February 4, 2016
Cheo Feliciano’s smooth distinctive voice was loved and revered by salsa fans throughout the world. Unfortunately in 2014, Feliciano passed away in a car accident losing control of his car and hitting a light pole. But Feliciano’s brushes with death were not uncommon and his is a story to be remembered and admired.
Feliciano (birth name: José Luis Feliciano Vega) born in Ponce Puerto Rico. His childhood nickname, “Cheo” came from his family, a colloquial version of José. And the name stuck plus he was not to be confused with the other Jose Feliciano who was of no relation. At a young age Cheo was influenced by the boleros of the Trio Los Panchos. When Cheo was just eight years old he started his own group named “El Combo Las Latas”. Their musical instruments were made out of cans because that’s all they could afford at the time. And as a young teenager in Ponce, he went on to study percussion.
Feliciano and his family moved to Nueva York to the heart of Spanish Harlem. Once in New York, he auditioned and got the gig as a percussionist in the “Ciro Rimac’s Review” band. After that famed Puerto Rican crooner, Tito Rodriguez offered Feliciano a spot in his big band that played at the Palladium Ballroom. In 1955, Rodríguez found out that Joe Cuba was in need of a singer for his sextet and he knew what a talented singer Cheo was; so he recommended Cuba that he try out for the position. Feliciano became a vocalist for the Joe Cuba Sextet one of the most popular bands at the time. Feliciano was the rare baritone of salsa singers, and his deep voice and quick humor in improvisation made him un favorite dentro del public Latino.
On October 5, 1957, was Feliciano’s professional debut as a vocalist with the Joe Cuba Sextet, singing “Perfidia”. He sang with Joe Cuba for 10 years. In 1967, he joined the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra singing for them for two years. Sadly at the same time he developed a drug habit at just 21 years old. Cheo quickly fell into a heroin addiction which threatened his life and professional career. Feliciano decided to quit “cold turkey” and eventually joined Puerto Rico’s rehabilitation center, Hoagies CREA. Feliciano credits Tite Curet Alonso, the author of most of his hits and best friend, with pushing him through rehabilitation. As a result, Feliciano was a vehement anti-drug spokesperson, who volunteered to assist in the rehabilitation of fellow salsa artists who fell prey to drug addiction.
In 1972, Feliciano came back to music with the album Cheo, his first solo recording. The album, which featured compositions by Tite Curet, broke all sales records in the Latino music market. The album was loaded with hits like “Anacaona” and “Mi Triste Problema”
During the 1970s, Feliciano recorded fifteen albums for Fania Records and had hits with “Amada Mia” and “Juan Albañil”. He also recorded one of his first albums of Boleros – La Voz Sensual de Cheo. Recorded in Argentina and directed by a famed composer Jorge Calandrelli Cheo’s star rose to new levels. And Feliciano became a part of the first salsa opera by Fania pianist “El Judio Maravilloso”, Larry Harlow, entitled Hommy.
In 1982, Feliciano began his own record label – “Coche Records”. In 1984, he was honored by artists like Ruben Blades and Joe Cuba in a concert entitled A Tribute to Cheo Feliciano. The next year, he became the first tropical singer to perform at the Amira de la Rosa Theater in Barranquilla, Colombia. In 1987, he played Roberto Clemente’s father in the musical Clemente. Feliciano also became a hit in Spain, and was a regular in the Tenerife Carnival.
In 1990, Feliciano recorded another album of Boleros, titled Los Feelings de Cheo. He also traveled all over Europe, Japan, Africa, and South America. In Venezuela, he had a reunion with Eddie Palmieri. In 1995, Feliciano won a Platinum Record Award for La Combinación Perfecta.
In 2000, Feliciano recorded Una Voz, Mil Recuerdos as a tribute to various Puerto Rican singers. The album was listed among the 20 outstanding recordings of the year by the National Foundation of the Popular Culture of Puerto Rico. In 2002, he recorded Cheo en la Intimidad. In 2012, Feliciano and Ruben Blades released a collaboration album titled Eba Say Aja where both artists performed each other’s previously recorded songs. In June 2013, Feliciano confirmed that he was suffering from liver cancer and was already undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Doctors discovered the illness when they were treating him for a dislocated shoulder. In 2014, Feliciano celebrated being “cancer-free”.
A memorial service in honor of Feliciano was held at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan on April 20, 2014. The service was attended by thousands and several artists paid their respects to Feliciano with songs plus kept guard by Feliciano’s coffin. Artists and groups like Danny Rivera, José Nogueras, Fania All-Stars, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Rubén Blades, Víctor Manuelle, Andy Montañez, Tito Nieves, and others were present. The next day, his body was taken to the city of Ponce, where he was born. A public service was held at the Ponce Convention Center, led by Governor Alejandro García Padilla and Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez. After that, a private ceremony was held for the family and close friends inside La Piedad Cemetery. Although the public was not allowed entrance at first, the gates were opened once the family finished their memorial. Feliciano became part of Sergio George’s group called Salsa Giants whom he was touring with when he died. Feliciano traveled and sang across the globe until his last day.