Tribute to Cheo Feliciano

Cheo Feliciano died tragically last week in a car crash, but his legacy lives on in his music and influence.  Joey Spehar of The Morning Mix spoke with Grammy Award winning producer and musician Aaron Luis Levinson about this very important artist.

Salsa music came around in 1950s and 60s New York with a jazz and soul aspect to it, Levinson said. Feliciano, a pioneer to the genre, started out as percussionist when he settled in Spanish Harlem, New York with his family, Spehar says. Having felt the culture shock of being there at this time, Feliciano experienced a vibrant community “filled with music culture and cuisine,” Levinson said.

Unfortunately in the mid-60s, Feliciano began to struggle with drugs which were a big problem at the time. “Unfortunately Cheo succumb to that temptation, and he got really, really strung out.”

The release of Feliciano’s first solo album In 1971 Cheo is a mark of excellence for the musician, and this album proves how a contender turned into a champion, Levinson says. “It is like he has leaped over the expectations of “well how good is he still.” He’s better than he’s ever been.”

Though Feliciano was diagnosed with liver cancer last year, his death in a car crash made things all the more tragic, Spehar says. Levinson then talks about a recent trip to New York where Felicano’s death and the irony of beating cancer but dying in a car crash, was the sole topic of conversation by the locals.

One song by Feliciano Levinson points out is called “Ana Caona.” “If you want to hear in four minutes why Cheo Feliciano is recognized as one of the Mount Rushmore salsa singers, listen to Ana Caona. You won’t need anything more than that.”

“If you’re just learning about salsa music, you wanna learn about Latin music, if you wanna hear what singing is all about, don’t waste your time — go listen to Cheo Feliciano.”