Culture Trips

Johnny Pacheco, co-founder of New York’s Latin label Fania, dies aged 85 | Music

Johnny Pacheco, the co-founder of trailblazing salsa label Fania Records, has died aged 85. The cause was complications from pneumonia.

A representative for Fania said Pacheco was “the man most responsible for the genre of salsa music. He was a visionary and his music will live on eternally.”

Pacheco, a flautist frustrated by the low payments he received for his recordings, founded Fania with Jerry Masucci in 1964 to promote the music of Latin Americans in New York.

The label became known as the Motown of salsa, playing home to Latin musician giants including Willie Colón, Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe and Bobby Valentín.

In 1968, Pacheco founded the supergroup Fania All-Stars, uniting the finest salsa musicians for shows and recordings. They starred in the 1972 documentary Our Latin Thing and performed to 45,000 people at Yankee Stadium a year later. In 2003, a live recording of the concert was entered into the National Recording Registry in the US.

Fania All Stars mix – video

The label foundered in the 1980s, faced with lawsuits over royalties. Masucci died in 1997.

Pacheco, born Juan Azarías Pacheco Knipping on 25 March 1935, was raised in the Dominican Republic. When he was 11, his family moved to New York City, where he studied percussion at the Juilliard School. He joined and formed bands in the 1950s – including stints on percussion in Tito Puente’s orchestras – and for two years played with pianist Charlie Palmieri before leaving to form his own charanga (an ensemble performing Cuban dance music).

He had massive success with Alegre Records, selling more than 100,000 copies of his group Pacheco y Su Charanga’s debut album, which spawned a dance craze and made him an international star. During his career, he recorded and composed more than 150 songs.

Alegre owner Al Santiago had financial problems, prompting Pacheco to start Fania with Masucci, then a lawyer, selling records out of the back of cars. They marketed their records as salsa and Pacheco encouraged the evolution of the sound, which became more musically intense and lyrically political.

Pacheco formed a lasting recording partnership with Cruz; their 1974 album, Celia & Johnny, went gold and earned her the sobriquet Queen of Salsa.

After Fania collapsed, Pacheco worked on film music, including a collaboration with David Byrne of Talking Heads for the 1986 Jonathan Demme comedy Something Wild.

He was garlanded by the Dominican Republic, and in 2005 received a lifetime achievement award at the Latin Grammys. Pacheco is survived by his wife and four children.

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