Juan Azarías Pacheco Knipping, the Dominican musician, songwriter, bandleader, and record producer better known as Johnny Pacheco has passed away at the age of 85. Pacheco helped popularize a dance fad known as the pachanga. Later as the founder and creative force behind Fania Records, Pacheco helped popularize the New York City Salsa scene. He earned the nickname “Godfather of Salsa”.
Pacheco had been hospitalized with pneumonia at the time of death and his cause of death is said to have stem from complications.
Pacheco was also a skilled musician and known for playing instruments such as the flute, conga, bongos, güiro, saxophone, and accordion.
In 1960 Pacheco had signed with Alegre Records. His first album for Alegre, Pacheco y su charanga, sold 100,000 copies within the first year of its release. The success of the album got momentum as a result a new dance fad, the pachanga. This is a dance that is best described as a mix of merengue and cha-cha. By 1960, the pachanga reached the New York scene and Pacheco helped spearhead it.
By 1963, Pacheco met a lawyer named Jerry Masucci, and the two would co-found Fania Records. Pacheco was the Vice President, creative director and musical producer of the new label. As creative director, Pacheco would perform, produce, and arrange many songs for the label. When the label originally started, the two would originally start selling albums out of the back of cars.
At Fania Records, Pacheco began signing many Latin American artists and the label soon earned the reputation as the “Latin Motown”. The label became the epicenter for the Salsa movement – a musical genre that incorporates traditional Cuban elements along with elements of funk and jazz. Masucci eventually bought out Pacheco’s share of Fania Records, but Pacheco remained a creative force there.
In 1968, Pacheco formed the Fania All Stars, a collaborative all-star lineup of Fania’s Salsa musicians. Pacheco performed and served as bandleader as a part of a lineup that included Willie Colón, Ruben Blades, Ray Barretto, Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe, Bobby Valetin, Larry Harlow, and many others. The Fania All Stars headlined a concert at Yankee Stadium in 1973.
In the 1980s, Pacheco wrote the musical scores and themes for the films Mondo New York and Something Wild (a collaboration with Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne). He also produced, arranged, and performed on several tracks featured on the soundtrack of the 1992 film The Mambo Kings.
Throughout his career, Pacheco earned nine Grammy nominations and ten gold records. In 1996, Dominican Republic President Joaquín Balaguer presented Pacheco with the Presidential Medial of Honor. 2005 saw the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences present Pacheco with a Lifetime Achievement Award.