The life of one the Salsa Greatest - Cheo Feliciano...
José Luis Feliciano Vega, better known as Cheo Feliciano (July 3, 1935 – April 17, 2014) was a Puerto Rican composer and singer of salsa and bolero music.
Musical career and singing debut. In 1952, Feliciano moved with his family to New York City and settled down in Spanish Harlem. Here he auditioned as a percussionist in the "Ciro Rimac's Review" band - giving him his first professional musical job. Bandleader Tito Rodríguez, heard Feliciano play and offered him a job in his orchestra. He accepted, but after playing for some time with Tito, he left the band to play the conga for Luis Cruz. Despite leaving, he always remained on friendly terms with Tito. Feliciano also played percussion for Kako y su Trabuco orchestra. He was also a roadie for Mon Rivera.
In 1955, Rodríguez found out that Joe Cuba was in need of a singer for his sextet. Aware that Feliciano was also a talented singer, he recommended Cuba that he try out for the position. Feliciano auditioned and became a vocalist for the Joe Cuba Sextet. He was the rare baritone among salsa singers, and his deep voice and quick wit as an improviser made him a favorite among the Latino public.
On October 5, 1957, Feliciano made his professional singing debut with the Joe Cuba Sextet, singing the song "Perfidia". He remained with the sextet for 10 years. In 1967, he joined the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra and sang for them for two years. However, at the same time he began using drugs at 21 years old. His increasing addiction led him to heroin, which in turn threatened his life and career. He decided to quit drugs "cold turkey" and eventually joined Puerto Rico's rehabilitation center, Hogares CREA. Feliciano credits Tite Curet Alonso, the author of most of his hits and his best friend, with pushing him through his rehabilitation. As a result, he was a vehement anti-drug spokesperson, who volunteered to assist in the rehabilitation of fellow salsa artists who fell prey to drug addiction.
Return to music. In 1972, Feliciano came back to music with the album Cheo, his first solo recording. The album, which featured compositions by Feliciano's friend Tite Curet, broke all sales records in the Latino music market. The album included:
In 1982, Feliciano started his own recording company called "Coche Records". In 1984, he was honored by artists like Rubén Blades and Joe Cuba in a concert entitled 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 landed the role of Roberto Clemente's father in the musical Clemente. Feliciano also became a hit in Spain, and was a regular in the Tenerife Carnival. He also sang in the 1992 Universal Exposition in Seville.
In 1990, Feliciano recorded another album of bolero music, 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 the same year, Feliciano became part of Sergio George's group called Salsa Giants whom he was touring with at the time of his death. Feliciano was very active and continued traveling and performing all over the world until his last day.
Personal life. Feliciano met Socorro "Cocó" Prieto León in New York, when she was 15 years old. They married in October 5, 1958 and had four children together. Feliciano dedicated his 1993 album, Motivos, to his wife.
Health. 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. Earlier this year, Feliciano celebrated being "cancer-free".
Death. Cheo Feliciano died in the early hours of April 17, 2014 in a single car accident on Highway 176 in the San Juan’s borough of Cupey, after losing control of his vehicle and hitting a light pole. His wife, Coco, told reporters that Feliciano did not like to wear a seat belt.
Influence. Through his career, Feliciano was recognized as a pioneer in the Salsa genre, and many artists considered him an influence. Gilberto Santa Rosa, Ruben Blades, Alex D'Castro, Jerry Rivas (of El Gran Combo) and his son Gerardo (of NG2) are among some of the singers that mentioned Feliciano as an influence. Rivas referred to him as "my inspiration", while Blades has admitted that he began his career copying Feliciano's style and tone.
Discography with Joe Cuba Sextet...
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