Johnny Pacheco, who popularized salsa music in the US, dies at 85
When he and his family moved to the Bronx to escape the oppressive rule of dictator Rafael Trujillo in the 1940s, he picked up more instruments, including his father’s primary instrument, the Accordion, violin, flute, saxophone, and clarinet.
His label produced Salsa stars
Their specialty? A unique blend of Latino musical styles, mostly up-tempo, marked by strong percussion and a musical ensemble that could steal the show from the singer.
The public called it “Salsa”.
The lineup of Fania All-Stars has changed over time, though its best known members include Cruz, the beloved Puerto Rican salsa singer Hector Lavo, and jazz pioneer Ray Barreto. But Pacheco was its constant. He played on the records with the label’s talent, produced his albums and worked as his band in live concerts.
And at the same time all of Pacheco’s stars were going mainstream, establishing a new identity in Puerto Rican, Cuban American, and Latin American America. Political science professor Jose Cruz told NPR in 2006 that Fania’s music inspired many Afro Cubans and Puerto Ricans to become politically involved.
Perhaps the best evidence of Salsa’s influence occurred in August 1973, when the Fania All-Stars performed to a crowd of over 44,000 at Yankee Stadium. Attendees waved Puerto Rican flags throughout the stadium and at one point stormed the arena during a particularly queer duel between Barretto and Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria.
The concert ended early after the arena-storm but was recalled with a live album and a documentary.
End of Fania Records
Salsa was eventually eclipsed by Fania’s success, which was eclipsed by other burial styles, and it stopped recording in 1979. But its success indicated a change in the American music scene, which pushed it into a more international direction.
He continued to tour with an orchestra in the early Augets, playing many of the same songs he wrote for his Fania artists. “Excitement” powered his performance, he said.
Despite his broken relationship with Fania co-founder Masuki and an early exit from the label, he told Billboard that he was still “very proud” of that work.
“I put together a group that was incredible,” he told Billboard in 2014. “It’s been 50 years, and we’re still like a family.”
The record label wrote, “He was much more than a musician, band producer, writer, arranger and producer; he was a visionary.” “His music will live for eternity, and we are forever grateful to be a part of his amazing journey.”