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Salsa Singer Cheo Feliciano Dead at 78

Car crash kills Puerto Rican great

Cheo Feliciano

Cheo Feliciano, a top salsa vocalist from Puerto Rico and a former member of the Fania All Stars, was killed in an automobile accident in the San Juan suburb of Cupey this morning, according to various news sources. Feliciano, who was alone in his car at the time, was 78.

So popular was Feliciano in the territory that the governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, declared a three-day mourning period in his honor.

Born José Luis Feliciano Vega on July 3, 1935, in Ponce, P.R., Feliciano started singing in public at age 8. He attended Ponce’s Free School of Music and was originally a percussionist before turning professional as a vocalist in his teens. Feliciano joined the Joe Cuba Sextet in 1955, remaining with the group for 10 years. In 1967 he teamed with Eddie Palmieri, but an addiction to heroin sidelined him after two years, after which time he cleaned up in rehab. He subsequently became a staunch anti-drug spokesman.

In 1972, Feliciano released Cheo, his first solo album; he joined the Fania All Stars that same year, recording for the Fania label. He was signed to RMM Records in 1990, then continued to release new albums regularly into the 2000s-some of which featured boleros-and was also a much-loved live performer until his death. Feliciano won a Latin Grammy award in 2008 for Excellence in Music. That same year he was honored in New York City when Mayor Bloomberg declared June 20 Cheo Feliciano Day for his contributions to Latin music.

Feliciano was reportedly working on a collaboration with Ruben Blades at the time of his death.

Originally Published