Thursday, April 17, 2014

Salsa Music Great José “Cheo” Feliciano Dies

Puerto Rican salsa legend and bolero singer José “Cheo” Feliciano died in the early morning hours of Thursday in a car crash.  He was 78 years old.

According to police officials in Puerto Rico, Feliciano was driving alone in his Jaguar auto when it hit a utility pole near the San Juan suburb of Cupey.  He reportedly lost control of his car as he was entering a curve and hit his head on the windshield. 

“It was a strong impact against a fixed object,” said Jorge Hernández Peña, the head of the police force’s traffic division.  “Feliciano was not wearing his seatbelt,” observed Hernández Peña.

Feliciano’s widow, Socorro Prieto León, said at an impromptu press conference that her husband “hated to put on his seatbelt” and that she would usually drive for him since he was diagnosed with cancer last year.

“(Please) remember him always as a family man.  A man who was always very good and a wonderful partner,” she added.  The couple would have celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary this October.

The motive for the accident is unknown though the singer’s son, José Enrique Feliciano, speculated that his father suffered from limited mobility and may have fallen asleep behind the wheel.
It was at the age of eight that José Luis Feliciano Vega created his first band in his birthplace of Ponce called "El Combo Las Latas" (“The Tin Can Band”) after the instruments they used.  From these humble beginnings, Feliciano would be a member of the Joe Cuba Sextet and later the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra and was best know for songs like "Una en un millon," "Mi promesa" and "Contigo aprendi." His main claim to fame, however, would be as part of the revered Fania All-Stars salsa music ensemble where he shared the stage with the likes of Celia Cruz, Willie Colón and Ruben Blades. 

In 1967, Feliciano went through an addiction to heroin that nearly derailed his musical career and put his life at risk.  He was able to overcome it by undergoing rehabilitation in Puerto Rico and since that time he was a vocal anti-drug advocate.  Last year, for example, he spoke out against a proposal to legalize personal use of marijuana by arguing that “so many former addicts like myself started by smoking marijuana” and then moved on to other narcotics in order to find “a greater high.

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla declared three days of mourning while scores of musicians including Daddy Yankee, Oscar D'León and Calle 13 lead singer René González expressed their condolences via social networks.

Salsa singer Tito Nieves, who was scheduled to perform with Feliciano in concert on Saturday, observed that Feliciano received a great deal of support throughout the Americas though he seemed to have been overlooked in Puerto Rico.  Nevertheless, he urged the mayor of Ponce to “do whatever she can” so that Feliciano can be buried in the city of his birth.

In a 2008 interview, Feliciano admitted, “In my case, there’s no such thing as retirement.  I’ll keep singing until the bells toll.”  The bells may have rung in the predawn hours with the crash that claimed his life, but the music of “Cheo” will continue to be heard and loved for many years to come.
Video Source– YouTube user SalsaBravaRecords

Online Sources – Billboard, El Universal, Metro Puerto Rico, El Nuevo Dia; Univision Noticias; El Colombiano

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