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Johnny Pacheco (1935–2021), musician who helped popularize salsa music

by Linnea Crowther

Johnny Pacheco was a musician who co-founded Fania Records, where he helped create salsa music and bring it into the mainstream.

Godfather of Salsa

Pacheco, a native of the Dominican Republic who came to New York City with his family as a boy, learned to play many instruments including accordion, violin, and flute. He began playing professionally in the early 1950s and formed his own band in 1960, Pacheco y su Charanga. They helped popularize the pachanga, a dance trend of the early 1960s that mixed merengue and cha-cha-cha. In 1964, Pacheco co-founded Fania Records with a goal of creating a musical home for Latino musicians. He brought together musicians and diverse styles of Latin music, blending and fusing genres to help create the new genre of salsa. Notable artists recording at Fania included Celia Cruz 1925–2003), Willie Colon, and Tito Puente (1923–2000). Pacheco’s important role in creating and popularizing salsa music earned him the nickname, the Godfather of Salsa. He was honored with a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Notable quote

“Our only goal was to make people dance.” —from a 1999 interview with the Los Angeles Times

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Tributes to Johnny Pacheco

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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