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Salsa music great José 'Cheo' Feliciano, 78, dies in car crash

Puerto Rican salsa singer Jose "Cheo" Feliciano (R) embraces Panamanian singer Ruben Blades during Blades' initial concert of his new tour "
Puerto Rican salsa singer Jose "Cheo" Feliciano (R) embraces Panamanian singer Ruben Blades during Blades' initial concert of his new tour "

By Ana Martinez-Santiago

SAN JUAN (Reuters) - Puerto Rican singer José Luis "Cheo" Feliciano, who performed with some of salsa's top stars, was killed in a car crash in San Juan early Thursday morning, police said.

He was 78.

Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla declared three days of mourning for the widely admired salsero.

Feliciano died shortly after 4 a.m, according to Axel Valencia, a San Juan police spokesman. The El Nuevo Dia newspaper said his Jaguar hit an electricity pole.

"It appears as if he lost control while taking a curve," Police Inspector Jorge Hernandez Pena said, adding that he was not wearing a seat belt.

Not to be confused with the blind José Feliciano, the famed Puerto Rican guitarist and vocalist with hits including a rendition of The Doors' "Light My Fire," Cheo Feliciano was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on July 3, 1935.

Tributes poured in on Thursday from fellow musicians and fans.

In a Twitter message, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Feliciano "always carried with him pride of his beloved Puerto Rico. He was Caribbean and gave us rhythm and poetry to fill our life."

Feliciano dropped out of school at 17 and moved to New York in 1952 to train with top salsa orchestras, according to Billboard.com.

He started his career as a drummer and got his first shot as a singer with the Joe Cuba Sextet. He would go on to establish a solo career in the 1970s and performed with the legendary Fania All-Stars.

In 2008, he was honored with the Latin Grammy Awards' Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

In 2012, he released a collaboration with Panamanian singer Rubén Blades, "Eba Say Ajá."

Feliciano's contribution to salsa "has no expiration date," said Blades on his website. "He will always be remembered with fondness and admiration that the greats deserve."

Blades told El Nuevo Dia he started his career imitating Feliciano's style because he admired its "quality and elegance."

"He was a guide to all of us," said Enrique "Papo" Lucca, a pianist who played with Feliciano in the Fania-All Stars and was interviewed while visiting the family home on Thursday.

"He had enormous energy and was a very kind to everyone, as well as having impeccable artistic talent," he added.

(Writing by David Adams; Editing by W Simon)

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