Johnny Pacheco – the band leader, songwriter, producer, arranger and co-founder of the Fania Records label, who helped bring salsa internationally – has died, according to NPR. He was recently hospitalized, according to Jerry Masucci’s brother, Alex Masucci, the co-founder of Fania. No cause of death was disclosed. Pacheco was 85 years old.
Pacheco was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York with his family in the 1940s to escape the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. He taught himself several instruments before studying drums with Julliard. He became a working 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 label would soon become synonymous with salsa, and Pacheco was the label’s in-house producer. Pacheco and Fania have boosted the careers of Celia Cruz, Willie Colón, Ruben Blades, Héctor Lavoe and many others. He wrote dozens of cult songs including “Mi Gente” (made popular by Lavoe). He was also a prolific member of the label’s roster in the 1960s to 1980s, releasing multiple albums as a band leader as well as collaborations with artists like Cruz.
He often performed and recorded with a super group of Fania All-Stars label artists. One of the group’s best-known performances was the 1974 Zaire Music Festival, which coincided with the battle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. In 2005 Pacheco was awarded the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.