When very young, ‘José Luis Feliciano Vega” was influenced by the bolero music his family often played in his home in Ponce, Puerto Rico. As a child, he was nicknamed “Cheo” by his family (a colloquial version of the name José). The name stuck and became his persona. It also distinguished him from another José Feliciano; a major Puerto Rican singer who achieved international fame. Cheo loved listening to the Trio Los Panchos, dreaming that someday he would be able to entertain the world like Panchos’ singer, Johnny Albino, was to do.
We know him as Cheo Feliciano and yes, he reached his objective; stirring the emotions of Latin music lovers throughout Latin America. When he was only eight years old he formed his first group with friends and named it “El Combo Las Latas.” They were so poor that their musical instruments were made out of cans (hence latas.)
In 1952, Feliciano moved with his family to New York City and settled down in Spanish Harlem.
After working as a percussionist with the Tito Rodriguez orchestra and after having played with various bands in El Barrio of New York, in 1957, he hooked up with Joe Cuba who was in search of a lead singer for his sextet. He remained with Joe Cuba for ten years and joined the Eddie Palmieri orchestra in 1967. In 1971, he joined Fania and recorded his first solo album, titled Cheo. It was the beginning of a successful career that produced 15 hit albums for the Fania label, until his demise in 2014. Cheo died in an automobile accident in early 2014, in San Juan, he was 78.
During the 1970s, Feliciano recorded fifteen albums for Fania and scored hits with all of them. He also recorded one of his first albums of 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, produced by Larry Harlow. Besides making his mark as a crooner, Cheo developed into a top-notch Salsa singer (sonero) with Joe Cuba, Eddie Palmieri and the Fania All Stars. —Bobby Marin