Salsa! Cheo Feliciano Celebrates 50 Years in Music

Bennett Baumer Jun 23, 2008


Salsa star Jose “Cheo” Feliciano celebrated 50 years in the music industry with a legend-laden concert at Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater on Friday night.

Latin-jazz and salsa performers Eddie Palmieri, Ismael Miranda, Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentín, Papo Lucca and Johnny Pacheco and percussionist Jimmy Sabater shared the stage with Feliciano on June 20.

Prior to the concert, two movie screens played photos and videos from throughout Feliciano’s career, though the montage seemed under whelming and thin for a performer of Feliciano’s stature. Feliciano first took the stage in a bright red suit jacket and was soon joined by Sabater. Sabater’s vocals couldn’t match Feliciano in the few songs they sung together but the percussionist’s solo drew applause.

But soon Latin-jazz and salsa piano player Eddie Palmieri joined Feliciano and the show took off. The Spanish Harlem Orchestra backed Feliciano all night and played seamlessly as Lucca replaced Palmieri on the piano and Johnny Pacheco took a turn at directing the band.

Feliciano, who made his name as a bolero crooner and singer for the Joe Cuba Sextet and the Fania All-Stars, romanced the crowd with “Amada Mía” and passed out roses to crowd members.

Feliciano told Abel Delgado from

“I’m a feeling singer. I interpret it. I think of a bolero as when you whisper to a woman in the ear, you talk, you bring through the message. I think bolero should be in between singing it and talking it. So whenever I go into words like “amor” (in a breathy voice), talk about it, not just “amoooorrrr.” I don’t consider myself a singer. I consider myself an interpreter. And people have said that: “Cheo does not sing the bolero. Cheo talks the bolero.” (

The crowd burst into a sing along with favorites “Quitate Tu Para Ponerme” and “A Las Seis.” Feliciano also played classics “Anacaonda” ( and “Salomé.”

Like many salsa musicians who played in the 1960s and 1970s, Feliciano was shaped and participated in the radical politics of the era. According to, he halted his career for three years in protest of the Vietnam War. During this time, according to, Feliciano also spent time in his native Puerto Rico in drug rehabilitation to kick his heroin habit. (You can read a brief bio of Feliciano here:

The night at MSG’s WaMu theater ended with Feliciano’s classic, “Anacaonda” and a taped message from Ruben Blades (some audience members unfortunately booed), who after putting his name on the bill at the last minute couldn’t make it due to his duties as the Panama’s Minister of Tourism.

Feliciano and Blades are reportedly working on a new project together.

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