El Barrio Mourns Former Neighbor Cheo Feliciano

cheo

Hipólito Rodríguez, a fan, shows Cheo Feliciano’s albums in El Barrio. (photo by José Acosta via El Diario)

Residents of El Barrio, where singer Cheo Feliciano lived decades ago, were saddened by the news of the Puerto Rican salsero‘s sudden death in a car crash early Thursday morning.

Mabel Olivencia, born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and living in East Harlem for 15 years, was said to be “very sad” because she would “dance to and followed Cheo” since she was very young. She remembered that the singer was so close to his community that “he even recorded an album named ‘Joe Cuba with Cheo Feliciano: Pride of El Barrio.'”

“When I get home, I am going to remember him by playing all his albums,” said Olivencia. “Cheo has left us, but his music is eternal.”

At El Barrio Music Center, which opened 24 years ago, the owner, San Juan-native Reynaldo Meléndez, 49, was playing Feliciano’s music.

“Ever since we opened this morning, we have had many people looking to buy his music. “I am saddened. He was one of Puerto Rico’s greats ever since he sang with Joe Cuba, with Fania All Stars… He had a great trajectory, and he left us a beautiful musical legacy.”

Meléndez remembered Feliciano as “a great human being.”

“When he has young, he made his mistakes like many people did in those days [Feliciano was addicted to drugs for years] but he was able to overcome that, and became a gentleman,” said Meléndez.

Other customers, such as Juan Rivera, 25, born in El Barrio to Puerto Rican parents, was also purchasing Feliciano’s albums on 116th Street.

“I feel so sad that Cheo died in this tragic way. Since I was little, my dad would play his music at home, and I always liked it. I still watch videos of his hits on YouTube, like ‘Anacaona’ and ‘Juan Albañil,'” said Rivera.

When Hipólito Rodríguez, 53, born in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, and a resident of El Barrio for over 30 years, learned about Cheo’s accident, he wondered why the singer had been allowed to drive.

“Cheo had beat the cancer that was ailing him, but he was probably still being medicated in some way. You cannot drive like that,” said Rodríguez. “I am very sad,” he added.

Ángela Reyes belongs to the same generation as Feliciano. “I danced at many of the parties where he sang, and I was a big fan.”

“I am twice heartbroken. Cheo died today, and my brother died yesterday of a heart attack at 80 years old,” said Reyes, born in Cidra, Puerto Rico. “I do have some of Cheo’s music. I am sorry for this because he was a star who put Puerto Rican music on the map.”

The oldest music store in El Barrio is Casa Latina, owned by Spaniard Vicente Barreiro, 68, who revealed that the first recording he sold on Thursday morning was his last Cheo Feliciano album in stock.

“I met him personally because Cheo lived around here for a while. He later moved back to Puerto Rico,” said Barreiro. “I have followed his career ever since he started out with Joe Cuba, who lived here as well (on 116th and Park). In those days, I tried to record Cheo with Joe Cuba and Jimmy Savater, but Joe had already signed with Fania, and we couldn’t do it.”

Barreiro recalled that Feliciano used to walk around the neighborhood frequently, and “he always said hi.”

“Cheo never forgot El Barrio, because he lived here and it was his birthplace as a singer,” said Barreiro. “It is a great loss for the music world.”

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