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Farewell to Puerto Rican Salsa Singer Cheo Feliciano

Cheo Feliciano: Some called him "The Ebony Prince."
Cheo Feliciano: Some called him "The Ebony Prince."
By Ángel Carrión, Translated by Kelley Johnson
In the early morning hours of Thursday April 17th, 2014, Puerto Rican singer, songwriter, and producer, José Luis Feliciano Vega, better known as Cheo Feliciano, died in an automobile accident. He was 78 years old.

As a singer, Cheo Feliciano was one of the most important exponents of salsa and bolero music. His artistic trajectory includes working with Joe Cuba, Héctor Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Rubén Blades, Eddie Palmieri, and Tite Curet Alonso, amongst other big names in popular music. He was admired not only in his native Puerto Rico, but in all of Latin America as well. In the following video we can appreciate Cheo Feliciano's gift for salsa. Here he shares the stage with legendary Fania All-Stars in celebration of the ensemble's 30th anniversary:

Twitter users lamented the great loss that his passing represents. They also expressed admiration towards his music:

Desde pequeña escuchando tu música; eras mi ídolo, como me duele tu partida mi #CheoFeliciano #NuncaVerteEnVivo #DescansaEnPazCheo #Triste

— Hayde Rosales H. (@haiderosales) April 19, 2014
Been listening to his music since I was little; you were my idol, your passing is very painful my Cheo Feliciano. Never see you live. Rest in peace Cheo.
Hoy sólo escucharé #Cheofeliciano

— Juancho Jaraba (@juanchojaraba_S) April 19, 2014
Today I will only be listening to Cheo Feliciano.

Grande como: cantante, bolerista, sonero, inspiración a muchos, hombre que venció al vicio, como ¡Familia! de PR entero. DEP #CheoFeliciano

— Fiquito Yunqué (@fiquito_yunque) April 17, 2014
Great as singer, bolerista, sonero, an inspiration to many, a man who overcame his vices, as family to all of Puerto Rico.

Coliseo Roberto Clemente was elected as the venue for the public to say goodbye to Cheo Feliciano. This in order to accommodate as many people as possible who wished to pay their last respects:

Llega al Coliseo Roberto Clemente el féretro de #CheoFeliciano. El público podrá darle último adiós a partir de 1pm pic.twitter.com/B0PbZpMtU6 — Ricardo E. Martínez (@RicardoEladio) April 19, 2014

Cheo Feliciano body arrives at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente. The public will be able to show their last respects starting at 1pm.

Cartoonist Kike Estrada [sp] also shows homage to Cheo Feliciano's memory:

“Have a good trip, Cheo” from cartoonist Kike Estrada. Taken from his
webpage, Planeta Kike [sp] [Kike's Planet].

In 80 Grados [80 Degrees], an emotional account [sp] is given by writer and Caribbean scholar Juan Carlos Quintero Herencia. He remembers Cheo Feliciano and how another great salsa singer, Puerto Rican Héctor Lavoe (1946-1993), immortalized him in “El Cantante” (video) [The Singer] as one of the greatest voices in salsa's history.

Héctor Lavoe en “El cantante” ha dejado inscritos los nombres del sabor y el plante salsero. Allí está el código para la fácil-dificultad del cantar salsero, además de que nos dejó la vara con la que el “Cantante de los cantantes” deseaba ser medido. Estos son sus verdaderos pares: “Mi saludo a Celia, Rivera, Feliciano, esos son grandes cantores. Coro: Hoy te dedico mis mejores pregones./ Ellos cantan de verdad/ siempre ponen a gozar a la gente./ Coro: Hoy te dedico mis mejores pregones/ Escuchen bien su cantar/ aprendan de los mejores.” Hasta ayer, Cheo era el único que desde el lado de acá de la grabación podía devolverle el saludo a Lavoe con su voz, en vida. Hoy, allí los verán: Héctor Lavoe, Ismael Rivera, Celia Cruz y Cheo Feliciano, cuatro titanes custodian el pabellón de los salseros muertos.

Héctor Lavoe has left the flavors of salsa and the image of the salsa singer engraved in “El Cantante”. There lies the code for the apparent simplicity of singing salsa. Furthermore, he left us the measuring rod with which the “singer of singers” desired to be measured by. These are his true equals: “My greetings to Celia, Rivera, Feliciano, those are great singers. Chorus: Today I dedicate to you my best songs/ They really sing/ They always make the people have fun/ Chorus: Today I dedicate to you my best songs/ Listen carefully to their singing/Learn from the best.” Up until yesterday, Cheo was the the only one on this side of the recording that could return Lavoe's greeting with his voice in life. Today, you will see them there: Héctor Lavoe, Ismael Rivera, Celia Cruz, and Cheo Feliciano, four titans watching over the pavilion of the deceased salsa singers.

Cheo Feliciano was also admired in the United States, particularly in the Puerto Rican diaspora, such as this mural in the Bronx, New York shows:

#RIP#graffiti#mural for #CheoFeliciano, #Salsero#Boricua supreme. In #Bronx by BG183 & HEF pic.twitter.com/h4XiYrXWLR

— David Gonzalez (@dgbxny) April 17, 2014 You can read Cheo Feliciano's biography here [sp]. It was written by the Fundación Nacional para la Cultural Popular [The National Foundation for Popular Culture].

Reprinted with permission from Global Voices.

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