Johnny Pacheco, the Dominican Republic-born flautist-turned-bandleader and the co-founder of the influential Fania Records, the label that brought salsa to the global mainstream, died on Feb.15 in Teaneck, New Jersey. He was 85. A cause of death has yet to be revealed; Billboard, citing sources, reports that Pacheco had “been hospitalized for complications stemming from pneumonia.”
A solo artist who released dozens of albums of his own since 1961, and as part of Pacheco y Su Charanga, he recorded and played live as part of the legendary Latin supergroup, the Fania All-Stars, and was awarded a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.
Pacheco is most renowned for co-founding the independent and influential Fania Records.
Launched in 1963 with his business partner Jerry Masucci with Pacheco as the label’s in-house producer, Fania ignited the recorded revolution of salsa — from the streets of New York City and its Cuban and Puerto Rican communities to — international acclaim – while at the same time making household names of its stars such as Willie Colón, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Ray Barretto and Héctor Lavoe, for whom Pacheco penned the salsa anthem, “Mi Gente.”
Along with Fania’s singing and playing salsa stars solo albums, Pacheco was famous for pairing up his brightest lights, such as trombonist Colón and socially conscious lyricist and singer Blades’ “Siembra” and “Cosa Nuestra” by Colón and Puerto Rican vocalist Lavoe. Though the Fania label was no longer in action by the mid80s, many of its re-releases can currently be found on the Craft Recordings label through Concord Recorded Music.
Pacheco was born Juan Azarias Pacheco Knipping on March 25, 1935 in Santiago de Los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, to a family of equally beloved musicians. The brood moved to New York City in the 1940s where he developed as a self-taught musician before studying percussion at the prestigious Julliard School. Before founding Fania, the band he lead, Pacheco Y Su Charanga, played pachanga and salsa, and sold over 100,000 copies of its debut on the Alegre label.
After Pacheco founded his label, salsa soon became the elegant, soulful center of New York City sound, with Fania often being called ‘the Motown of salsa.’
Marc Anthony, the legendary modern day salsa vocalist and actor who portrayed Hector Lavoe in 2007’s “El Cantante,” a biographical drama filmed with his then Jennifer Lopez, hopped onto Twitter and paid tribute to Pacheco with a photo of the pair.
Maestro de Maestros y mi buen amigo! Descansa en paz! You were there for me from day 1. Your sense of humor was contagious and I am forever grateful for your support, for the opportunity to be in your presence and for your amazing legacy. pic.twitter.com/vdah4bMfr7
— Marc Anthony (@MarcAnthony) February 15, 2021
In a statement, the Latin Recording Academy remarked: “Johnny Pacheco was a creative composer, arranger, bandleader and producer, in addition to being a gifted musician and a charming performer. … Pacheco is widely considered as one of the ‘fathers of salsa.’ During his decades-long career, he worked with some of the most prominent salsa artists, including Celia Cruz, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades, Cheo Feliciano and Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodríguez. … Johnny Pacheco will be greatly missed, but his music and legacy will live forever and continue to inspire music creators around the world. Our hearts go out to his wife, Cuqui, and their family during this difficult time.”