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Johnny Pacheco: King of Salsa

Co-founder of the Fania All Stars, which brought together top musicians


En español | Before Fania Records became the center of the salsa music universe, Johnny Pacheco was delivering his young company's music out of the trunk of his old Mercedes. Already a celebrated performer who had studied percussion at Juilliard, he and a partner, lawyer Jerry Masucci, launched Fania in 1963.

As the record company created an expanded platform for his and others' music, the business began drawing the likes of superstars such as Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades and Willie Colón. Pacheco soon became leader of the Fania All Stars, a constellation of the top musicians from each band under the Fania label. "He directed the world's finest Latin musicians, arrangers, composers, band leaders and soneros in the most famous salsa group of all time," says Mary Kent, author of Salsa Talks!

Pacheco, who is a nine-time Grammy nominee, recalls the All Stars' tours. "Anywhere we went, the seats were filled," he says. But, he adds, "people were getting confused by the different terms used to describe the different Latin sounds, such as el son, el mambo and la guaracha, so we decided that it was better to place our music under one roof."

"He directed the world's finest Latin musicians, arrangers, composers, band leaders and soneros in the most famous salsa group of all time."
—Mary Kent, author of Salsa Talks!

Those spicy Latin flavors melded into one recognizable genre: salsa. Fania became synonymous with the new term. Pacheco and his partner sold Fania, then a multimillion-dollar company, in 2006.

But the music lives on. In Las Vegas in October, Marc Anthony wrapped up his concert with Pacheco's "La voz." Pacheco's impact extends beyond the music. He participates in concerts for AIDS and for the Hispanic Hurricane Federation Relief Fund. And the Johnny Pacheco Scholarship Fund provides college tuition for new generations learning the power of music.

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