Johnny Pacheco, the influential salsa performer, songwriter, bandleader, and label head, died on February 15, according to NPR. He was 85. Born in the Dominican Republic, Pacheco immigrated to New York City with his family in the 1940s. He studied music in the city and eventually attended Juilliard for percussion, before playing percussion and flute in a number of Latin and salsa bands in the 1950s. He was following in the footsteps of his father, Azarías Pacheco, who had been bandleader of the Orquesta Santa Cecilia in the Dominican Republic. By the 1960s, Johnny Pacheco was leading his own band, Pacheco y su Charanga, and had become one of the leading ambassadors for the Cuban pachanga music. During that time, his band was the first Latin band to headline New York’s Apollo Theater.
Pacheco co-founded Fania Records with Jerry Masucci, an attorney, in 1963; he worked in many capacities, from scouting talent to writing and producing songs. The label’s musicians included salsa icons like Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, and Celia Cruz, with Pacheco writing songs including Lavoe’s signature “Mi Gente.” He also continued to perform with his new band Pacheco y su Nuevo Tumbao as well as the label supergroup Fania All Stars. In 1974, he renamed his band Pacheco y su Tumbao Añejo. He released his last album, Sima!, as a solo artist in 1993. He earned a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 Latin Grammys.