Johnny Pacheco – bandleader, songwriter, producer, arranger and co-founder of the label Fania Records, who helped popularize salsa internationally – has died, NPR reports. He was recently hospitalized, according to Fania co-founder Jerry Masucci’s brother Alex Masucci. No causes of death have been revealed. Pacheco was 85.
Pacheco was born in the Dominican Republic and moved with his family to New York in the 1940s to escape Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship. He taught himself several instruments before studying percussion at Julliard. He became a functioning studio musician, and in the early 1960s, his band Pacheco Y Su Charanga popularized pachanga music.
In 1963, Pacheco founded Fania Records with Jerry Masucci. The brand soon became synonymous with salsa, and Pacheco was the brand’s home producer. Pacheco and Fania helped start the careers of Celia Cruz, Willie Colón, Ruben Blades, Héctor Lavoe and so many others. He wrote dozens of iconic songs, including “Mi Gente” (popularized by Lavoe). He was also a prolific member of the label’s list from the ’60s to’ 80s and released several albums as a bandleader as well as collaborating with artists such as Cruz.
He performed frequently and recorded with a supergroup of artists from the label called Fania All-Stars. One of the group’s most high-profile performances was the 1974 music festival in Zaire, which coincided with the Muhammad Ali and George Foreman struggle. In 2005, Pacheco was awarded the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
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