Johnny Pacheco Day

March 25, 1935 – February 15, 2021

A tribute to one of the giants of salsa

Bandleader and arranger-composer Johnny Pacheco was born as Juan Azarías Pacheco Knipping on Mar. 25, 1935 in the Dominican Republic.

His father Rafael Azarias Pacheco, was the leader and clarinetist of the Orquesta Santa Cecilia, a leading big band in the 1930s.

He moved with his family for New York City when he was 11 and by then was learning the flute, saxophone, clarinet, violin, accordion, drums, and percussion.

While he studied electrical engineering, Pacheco also studied percussion at Julliard and by 1953 was a professional musician, working as a percussionist and singer with Gil Suarez’s band.

In 1954 Pacheco co-founded the Chuchulecos Boys (a group that included pianist Eddie Palmieri and trombonist Barry Rogers); he also freelanced on percussion with several bands including Tito Puente (playing bongos in 1958) and Xavier Cugat, was a studio musician, worked with Charlie Palmieri in La Duboney in 1959 (where he played flute), recorded with Kenny Burrell and McCoy Tyner, and formed his own group, Pacheco Y Su Charanga, in 1960.

Pacheco became famous with his band, popularizing the pachanga (a dance influenced by the merengue and cha-cha-cha style) and within three months had sold 100,000 copies of the album Pacheco Y Su Charanga Vol. 1.

In 1964, Pacheco co-founded the Fania label which became the top Latin music record company; he worked as its VP, creative director, producer, and top talent scout overseeing hundreds of albums in addition to recording a series of important releases of his own.

Pacheco popularized the term “salsa” and, starting in 1971, organized the Fania All-Stars to feature his label’s top stars, strongly influencing Latin music during the 1970s and ‘80s with its recordings and films.

Here is Johnny Pacheco at a 2017 concert that paid tribute to his life of musical accomplishments; the Fania All-Stars with Oscar D’Leon, Milly Quezada and El Canario perform “Quitate Tu.”

-Scott Yanow


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