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José "Cheo" Marcelino Diaz Marquetti (April 26, 1909 – March 29, 1967), was an important but underappreciated Cuban singer (reginero and sonero) and songwriter in the guajira-son style.
Marquetti was born in Alquízar, Cuba. He was the son of "El Lucumí" Marquetti, an Abakuá member of Los Chinos Buenos, a white, black and mulatto band whose members dressed as Chinese. He started his career in 1930 as a singer with the Sexteto Camagüey in 1930, then in the later 1930s as singer of danzons with the Cheo Belén Puig Orchestra as well as Ernesto Muñoz's Conjunto. He then joined a number of septetos, among them Septeto Cauto, led by Manuel 'Mozo' Borgella with whom he recorded in 1940 (including the song Efi Embemoro - the first Afro-Ñáñigo song to be recorded; Cheo Marquetti previously had recorded this tune in a duet setting with Bienvenido Granda in 1936, accompanied by Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Piñeiro). This was followed by stints with Septeto Hatuey, Septeto Facenda and the famous Septeto Habanero. He is also said to have been a member of Septeto Cuba, Alabama de Abelardo Barroso, Jóvenes del Cayo, Dandy del 40, La Sonora Piñón and Septeto Mora.
In an effort to achieve wider recognition he left Cuba for Mexico in the mid forties. Only mildly successful, he returned in 1953. Back in Havana he joined Orquesta Sensación, led by Rolando Valdés (to briefly replace the much more famous sonero Abelardo Barroso). This engagement was followed by temporary stints at a group whose fame survives today, Chappottín Y Sus Estrellas, whose members at the peak of their success and fame were Félix Chappottín, Miguelito Cuní, René Álvarez, Luis ''Lilí'' Martínez Griñán and Gina Martín, as well as Marquetti. Between 1955 and 1957 he had his own conjunto ("Los Salseros") with whom he recorded a couple of albums for the Panart and Egrem labels.
He also made appearances in a number of Mexican movies, including Cuñado los hijos se van (1941), Chucho el remendado (1951) and Mujeres del teatro (1951).
In 1957, he traveled to Venezuela and on his return rejoined Orquesta Sensación. In 1958, he left the group and formed another conjunto for more recordings. In 1961, he dissolved his group to move to Panama. He returned to Havana in 1963. After his return he was an occasional contributor to Grupo Tutankamen. He died, almost forgotten, in Havana, Cuba, at the relatively young age of 57.
His cousin, Luis Marquetti, was a famous composer, responsible for, among others, the classic song Deuda.
Cheo Marquetti is a real "singer's singer" with a beautifully lyrical and expressive voice. Contemporary vocalists and musicians such as Henry Fiol count him as a major influence. A few compilations of Cheo Marquetti's solo recordings have recently been reissued.
The Chinese in Cuba, 1847 - Now, Mauro García Triana, Pedro Eng Herrera
Los cantantes, Rafael Lam (Cuba, 2010)
Jordi Pujol, liner notes to Cheo Marquetti, Legends of Latin Music CD
Helio Orovio, liner notes to Cheo Marquetti, Región Matancera CD
The Díaz-Ayala Music Collection at the FIU Green Library