Cheo Feliciano

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Cheo Feliciano
Birth name José Luis Feliciano Vega
Born (1935-07-03)July 3, 1935
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Died April 17, 2014(2014-04-17) (aged 78)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Genres Salsa, Bolero
Occupations Musician and singer
Years active 1957-2014
Labels Fania, RMM
Associated acts Fania All-Stars, Salsa Giants
Notable instruments

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.

Early years[edit]

Feliciano (birth name: José Luis Feliciano Vega) was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where he was raised and educated. As a child, he was nicknamed "Cheo" by his family - a colloquial version of his name José, normally used by close friends and family. However, the name stuck and became part of his everyday name (using the nickname avoids confusion with José Feliciano, another major Puerto Rican singer to whom he is not related). At a young age he was influenced by the bolero music of the Trio Los Panchos. When he was only eight years old he formed his first group with his friends and named it "El Combo Las Latas". They were so poor that their musical instruments were made out of cans. After finishing his primary education, Feliciano attended the Escuela Libre de Música Juan Morel Campos in Ponce, where he studied percussion.[1][2][3]

Musical career and singing debut[edit]

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.[1][2][3]

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.[1][2][3]

On October 5, 1957, Feliciano made his professional singing debut with the Joe Cuba Sextet, singing the song "Perfidia" (he was also married on that same day). 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.[4] 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.[1][2][3]

Return to music[edit]

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:

During the 1970s, Feliciano recorded fifteen albums for Fania Record Co. and had hits with "Amada Mia" and "Juan Albañil". He also recorded one of his first albums bolero music titled La Voz Sensual de Cheo. The album was recorded in Argentina, with a band directed by Jorge Calandrelli. Feliciano also participated in the first salsa opera Hommy.

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.[1][2][3] 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.[5]

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.[1][2][3]

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.[6] Feliciano was very active and continued traveling and performing all over the world until his last day.[1][2][3]


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.[7][8]


During the years, he enjoyed successes with the following "hits",:

  • "A las Seis" (1962),
  • "El Pito" (1967)
  • "Busca lo Tuyo" (1968), Eddie Palmieri
  • "Anacaona" (1971)
  • "Mi Triste Problema" (1971)
  • "Salomé" (1973)
  • "Nabori" (1973)
  • "Mapeye" (1973)
  • "El Ratón" (1974), Fania All Stars
  • "Canta" (1976)
  • "Los Entierros" (1979)
  • "Amada Mía" (1980)
  • "Juan Albañil" (1980)
  • "Sobre Una Tumba Humilde" (1980)
  • "Ritmo Alegre" (1981), Eddie Palmieri
  • "Trizas" (1982)
  • "Yo No Soy Un Ángel" (1991)
  • "Mentiras" (1991)


Year Albums
1971 Cheo
1972 La Voz Sensual de Cheo
1973 With a Little Help From My Friend
1973 Felicidades
1974 Looking For Love
1976 The Singer
1977 Mi Tierra y Yo
1979 Estampas
1980 Sentimiento, Tú...
1982 Profundo
1985 Regresa el Amor
1987 Sabor y Sentimiento
1987 Te Regalo Mi Sabor Criollo
1988 Como Tú lo Pediste
1990 Los Feelings de Cheo
1991 Cantando
1993 Motivos
1996 Soñar
1996 Un Solo Beso
1997 El Eterno Enamorado
1998 Pinceladas Navideñas
1999 Una Voz... Mil Recuerdos
2002 En la Intimidad
2012 Eba Say Aja (with Ruben Blades)

Awards and recognitions[edit]

  • 1975 - The Golden Cup - Venezuela
  • 1976 - "Most Popular Artist" by Latin New York magazine
  • 1977 - Daily News Front Page Award for "Best Latin Vocalist"
  • 1985 - Owl of Gols (Panama); The Silver Chin Award (Miami, Florida)' Golden Agueybana Award (Puerto Rico)
  • 1983 & 1984 - Honorable Son of Ponce
  • 1999 - A tribute in his honor from the Puerto Rican Senate
  • 2008 - June 20 declared Cheo Feliciano Day in New York City
  • 2008 - Grammy for Excellence in Music at the Latin Grammy Awards
  • In Ponce, he is recognized at the Park for the Illustrious Ponce Citizens.[9]

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Interview,; accessed April 17, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Biodata,; accessed April 17, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Profile,; accessed April 17, 2014.
  4. ^ "Las batallas de Cheo más alla de la música". Univision. April 17, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Una vida de salsa y bolero: su biografía". Orlando Sentinel. April 17, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Cheo Feliciano: Farewell to a salsa and bolero icon". Voxxi. 
  7. ^ Rosario, Frances (April 17, 2014). "Fallece el cantante José Cheo Feliciano". El Nuevo Día. Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  8. ^ Notice of death of Cheo Feliciano,; accessed April 17, 2014.
  9. ^ Profile,; retrieved October 3, 2013.

External links[edit]