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Johnny Pacheco–the trailblazing musician, record executive and bandleader–passed away on Monday. He was 85.
In his life, Johnny Pacheco was known as the “Godfather of Salsa” due both popularizing the term as well as co-founding Fania Records, which came to be known as the Motown of Salsa music.
Yes, he was known for being a brilliant artist in his own right (Pacheco played the flute and the saxophone along with countless other instruments), but he was most famous for his role as star-maker.
Fania Records was famous for it supergroup, the Fania Allstars, that had a revolving lineup of talented musicians like Tito Puente, Héctor Lavoe, and of course, Celia Cruz.
Pacheco’s continuous collaborations with Celia Cruz is one of his greatest legacies. He first teamed up with Cruz in 1974, for their successful album Celia & Johnny–which certified Gold. Together, Pacheco and Cruz released over 10 albums.
You could say that music ran in Johnny Pacheco’s blood. Born in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic in 1935, the Pachecos were a musical family. Johnny’s father, Rafael Azarías Pacheco, was a successful clarinetist and big band leader.
When Johnny was 11, his family left the Dominican Republic and fled to the U.S. to escape the dictatorial regime of Rafael Trujillo. The Pachecos relocated to the Bronx, where Johnny’s love for Afro-Cuban music like charanga and pachanga truly blossomed.
After studying percussion at Julliard, Pacheco began to focus all of his attention on a new exciting genre that was sweeping New York City: salsa. Salsa was named such because it reminded listeners of sauce–it was spicy.
Pacheco co-founded Fania Records with his business partner, a laywer named Jerry Masucci. It was through Fania that Pacheco discovered numerous Latin artists and helped solidify salsa as a genre that was here to stay–forever.
Later in his life, Pacheco received innumerable awards and honors for his cultural contributions. Not only was he a 9-time Grammy nominee with 10 gold records, but he was awarded the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.
On Monday, Fania records released a statement that recognized Pacheco as “more than a musician, bandleader, writer, arranger and producer” but as “a visionary”. “His music will live on eternally,” they wrote. “And we are forever grateful to have been a part of his wonderful journey.”
He is survived by his wife, Maria “Cuqui” Elena Pacheco, and his four children, Norma, Joanne, Elis and Phillip
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