Johnny Pacheco, flutist, composer and leader of the Fania All-Stars. Image from archive
Johnny Pacheco, flutist, composer, and leader of the Fania All-Stars. Image from archive.

The Salsa world mourns the departure of Johnny Pacheco, leader of La Fania All Stars

Dominican artist Johnny Pacheco, one of the pioneers of salsa music, died Monday in a New York hospital at 85.


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Juan Zacarías Pacheco Knnipping, known worldwide as Johnny Pacheco, was Dominican by birth and, from the age of 11, a New Yorker by adoption.

With a passion for music from an early age inherited from his father - leader and clarinetist of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra - Pacheco studied percussion at the Julliard School until he became the best percussionist of his time.

Johnny Pacheco is credited, along with other great musicians, with the creation of salsa.

In New York, in 1960, there was a significant migration of Latin American musicians, a context that allowed a mixture of Caribbean rhythms such as guaracha, mambo, pachanga, guajira, güagüancó, and chachachá, from which the genre was born.

In that decade, his first orchestra, 'Pacheco y Su Charanga,' made history by being the first Latin orchestra to perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and becoming the theater's main attraction.  

But it was not until late 1963 that his career took a historic turn.

Along with Jerry Massucci, Pacheco founded the Fania Records label, where he served as an executive, creative director, and music producer.

Johnny Pacheco laid the groundwork for stars such as Celia Cruz, Rubén Blades, Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, Héctor Lavoe, Eddie Palmieri, Héctor Casanova, Ray Barreto, Willie Colón and Bobby Valentín, among others, and paved the way for their careers to take off and reach the entire world.

In the late 1960s, he formed the legendary Fania All-Stars band. He allowed himself to break traditional Latin music boundaries and made his way internationally, exploring Latin big band, Afro-Cuban jazz, jazz, boogaloo, and salsa.

During his musical career, Pacheco composed more than 150 songs that today we know as salsa classics and collaborated as a guest artist with many U.S. jazz and famous music legends such as Quincy Jones, Tony Bennet, George Benson, Sammy Davis Jr., Ethel Smith, and Steve Wonder.

A Latin music legend, flutist, percussionist, composer, arranger, orchestra leader, and producer, he was a nine-time Grammy nominee, achieved ten gold records, was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, and had many accolades throughout his career.

In addition to his musical facet, Johnny Pacheco always showed an outstanding commitment to the development of the Latino community around the world: he established an annual scholarship in his name to financially help a Latino student in his first year of college. He collaborated with solidarity events such as the Concert for Life, held in 1988 in New York to raise funds against AIDS.

Today, the salsa world mourns his departure and has shared the last goodbye to the legend through social networks.

Puerto Rican singer and songwriter Willie Colón also posted a reaction on Twitter upon hearing the news:

"Rest in peace, my dear friend and Maestro. Founder of Fania Records, Johnny Pacheco. Unique...," he wrote.

Johnny Pacheco lost his battle with pneumonia at a New York medical center this Monday afternoon.  

"With great pain in my soul and a void in my heart, I inform you that maestro Johnny Pacheco passed away this afternoon. A thousand thanks for all your prayers and all the love you always gave him. At this time, we ask for your privacy and prayers," confirmed the musician's family in a statement.

Rest in peace, maestro.



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