Cheo Feliciano, one of the pioneers of salsa music and a lead singer for the famous New York orchestra Fania All Stars, was killed early this morning in a car crash in his native Puerto Rico.
Feliciano, 78, apparently lost control of his car and crashed into a lamp post in the city of Cupey. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, according to a local police officer who spoke with Univision.
Feliciano was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1935, and immigrated to New York with his family in 1952.
The Feliciano family settled down in Spanish Harlem, where immigrants from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, and other Latin American countries mixed mambo, jazz, bugaloo, and cha cha cha, in a concoction that eventually came to be known as Salsa music.
Feliciano, whose baritone voice was rare amongst salsa singers, secured his first major salsa gig as a vocalist for the Joe Cuba Sextet in 1955.
He joined Fania All Stars in 1972, where he performed alongside salsa giants like Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Richie Ray, Bobby Cruz and Ruben Blades.
In the 60s and 70s Feliciano also became a well known singer of Boleros, the slow paced romantic genre developed by musicians in Cuba and Mexico.
But Feliciano´s rise to fame was not easy. He became addicted to heroin in the late 60s and stopped performing for a year while he was in rehab. But unlike Hector Lavoe, who never overcame his drug problems and died of AIDS, Feliciano abandoned heroine and continued to perform late in his life.
In fact, Feliciano was scheduled to perform at a concert in Acapulco, Mexico this Friday.
Today Feliciano is fondly remembered in Puerto Rico, with governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, declaring three days of mourning for his death. Even modern day artists like Calle 13´s Rene Perez expressed their condolences over twitter.
Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin and Daddy Yankee also shared their sentiments.
Want to hear more of Feliciano? Here are our top 5 Cheo songs:
And one song from Feliciano´s trajectory as a Bolero singer.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.