By Justina Bonilla
Latin music icon, pioneer, and trailblazer Johnny Pacheco has sadly died due to complications of pneumonia on February 15, 2021, in New Jersey.
Pacheco was the prolific musical talent, whose monumental professional musical career has spanned nearly seven decades, as a musician, composer, arranger, and bandleader. He is also known as the co-founder and musical director for Fania Records in 1963, alongside lawyer and promoter Jerry Masucci, to promote Latino music.
Pacheco, born Juan Azarias Pacheco Knipping, on March 25, 1935, in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. From a young age, Pacheco showed a natural talent for music. In 1946, the eleven-year-old Pacheco and his family moved to New York City. He continued his music education, becoming self-taught in multiple instruments and studying at the world-renounced music academy Juilliard for percussion.
In the 1950s, Pacheco performed percussion with a variety of New York City based orchestras, including the orchestras of the world-famous bandleaders Xavier Cugat and Tito Puente. Towards the end of the 1950s, in 1958, Pacheco was recruited by the Jazz bandleader and “Giant of the Keyboards” Charlie Palmieri, to perform on the Latin Jazz album, Easy Does It.
The 1960s was a groundbreaking decade for Pacheco. As a bandleader, Pacheco released multiple records under Alleger Records, finding initial success in 1960, with helping to popularize the newest dance craze in New York City, the Pachanga. This launched Pacheco into international stardom. His band made history in 1962, by becoming the first Latin band to head headline at the famous Apollo Theatre.
With Fania Records, Pacheco continued to develop his signature musical sound and uplift the careers of many of the most famous and talented Latin musicians in the 1960s and 1970s, most notably Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe, and “The Queen of Salsa” and “The Queen of Latin Music” Celia Cruz. To highlight the massive talent on the Fania Records roadster, the Fania All-Stars were formed in 1968. They played around the world, most notably Zaire 74, a three-day music festival in Zaire, Africa.
When developing Salsa, Pacheco explained in the documentary, Latino Music USA, “It was Cuban music that we took and we changed the arrangements, being that most of the guys were born here [in America], or were brought up on New York, we had the rock influence, the jazz influence, and we changed the approach.” He further added, “Now, what happened was, people would confuse [the sound of] the mambo, cha-cha-cha, and guaracha. So, what we did was put the music under one roof and called it Salsa”.
Pacheco’s contribution to Latino music in America through many contemporary Latino musical talents, including singer/songwriter Marc Anthony. Anthony loving referred to Pacheco as the “Maestro of maestros”.
Featured Photo: Frans Schellenkens/Redferns