Born in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, Pacheco inherited his passion for music from his father, Rafael Azarias Pacheco, who was the bandleader and clarinetist of the "Santa Cecilia Orchestra". In the late 1940s, when Pacheco was 11, his family moved to New York City. He continued polishing his musical skills, learning to play accordion, violin, flute, saxophone and clarinet. He attended the Juilliard School of Music to study percussion.
Early music career
Playing the flute, saxophone and assorted percussion, Pacheco performed with Charlie Palmieri‘s Latin orchestra for a number of years before forming his own band in 1959.In 1960, he organized his first orchestra, "Pacheco y Su Charanga". The band signed with Alegre Records and its first album Johnny Pacheco y Su Charanga
sold over 100,000 copies within the first year. Beginning then and through the end of 1963, Pacheco introduced a new dance craze called "Pachanga". He became an internationally renowned star and toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Moreover "Pacheco y Su Charanga" was the first Latin band to headline the Apollo in 1962 and 1963.
Pacheco's career as a musician reached its peak in 1963, when he joined forces with Jerry Masucci to create Fania Records, of which Pacheco was the CEO, creative director, and musical producer. There, he launched and solidified the careers of many artists who are now part of the history of the “Fania Family.” This was the record label that would set the standard in Latin music and gain unforeseeable celebrity internationally.In 1964, the label released his next endeavor entitled Cañonazo
). The album feature Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez on vocals and a switch from the Charanga to Conjunto style. This was the first of many recordings with the "compadres" (literally familial compatriots), and the beginning of a long friendship and working relationship. Together, they recorded Los Compadres
(1970), Perfecta Combinación
) (1971), Tres de Café y Dos de Azúcar
(Three Parts Coffee and Two Parts Sugar
) (1973) and many other successful albums.In 1968, he gathered many of the musicians from the Fania label and showcased them together in concert. This marked the birth of the legendary Fania All-Stars.Also in 1966, Pacheco worked with the nasal-voiced singer Monguito "El Único" (from Orquesta Broadway) and vocalist Chivirico Dávila to record the seminal "Viva África" LP. This album nods to Pacheco's increasing popularity at the time in West Africa.
Original Fania band
The early Fania All-Stars band was made up of Johnny Pacheco, musical director and flute; Larry Harlow on piano; Bobby Valentín (later replaced by Salvador "Sal" Cuevas) on bass guitar; Ray Barretto on conga (replaced later on by others, including Mongo Santamaría, Johnny "Dandy" Rodríguez and Eddie Montalvo); Roberto Roena on bongos; and Orestes Vilató on timbales (later replaced by Nicky Marrero due to a conflict with Ray Barreto, whose singer, Adalberto Santiago, formed La Típica 73 with Vilató, angering Barreto and forcing Pacheco to replace Vilató to prevent internal conflicts); Willie Colón, Barry Rodgers (subsequently replaced), and Renaldo Jorge (replaced by several others) on trombones; Larry Spencer (also to be replaced), Roberto Rodríguez (replaced by Víctor Paz, and subsequently by Juan "Juancito" Torres) and Héctor "Bomberito" Zarzuela on trumpets; and Yomo Toro on the cuatro (a small Puerto Rican guitar with 5 pairs of double strings).The lead singers included vocalists from the Colón, Pacheco, Barretto and Harlow bands. Héctor Lavoe, Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, Adalberto Santiago, and Ismael Miranda were joined by Santitos Colón (from the Tito Puente band), José Cheo Feliciano (from the Joe Cuba band) and Ismael Quintana (from the Eddie Palmieri orchestra). Early Fania All-Stars guests were Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Joe Bataan, Monguito, Mongo Santamaría, Jr., Jimmy Sabater, La La, Louie Ramírez, Ralph Robles, Ricardo Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz. The 1970s lineup included Rubén Blades, Celia Cruz, Papo Lucca, Luigi Texidor, Jorge Santana (Carlos's brother), drummer Billy Cobham and the Cameroonian sax player Manu Dibango, who appeared as a guest in concerts and live recordings in Puerto Rico and New York. Later on singer Andy Montañez would join the band in the mid-1990s.
Pacheco has recorded and composed over 150 songs. Among them are "Mi Gente", "La Dicha Mia", "Quítate Tú" (Pa’ Ponerme Yo), "Acuyuye," "El Rey de la Puntualidad," Tito Puente‘s "El Número Cien," and Celia Cruz's "Celia y Tito." His nine Grammy nominations, ten Gold records and numerous awards acknowledge his creative talent as composer, arranger, bandleader and producer.Pacheco has also been an inspiration to the younger generations. For example, rap artist Mangu asked him to write arrangements, sing chorus, and play the flute in his album "Calle Luna y Calle Sol". Pacheco also produced music for feature films; he was the musical director of the film, Our Latin Thing,
the first film about salsa and its influence on New York Latinos; in 1974, he worked on a second film entitled Salsa.
In the 1980s, he wrote the musical scores and themes for the films Mondo New York,
and Something Wild.
The latter was a collaboration with David Byrne, the lead singer of the group Talking Heads. Several tracks that he arranged, produced, and/or performed were on the soundtrack of the 1992 Warner Brothersfilm The Mambo Kings.
Pacheco participated in the AIDS benefit concert "Concierto Por La Vida," in November 1988 at New York City's Avery Fisher Hall. He demonstrated his solidarity with the victims of Hurricane Georges (Zhorzh) by collaborating with the Hispanic Federation Relief Fund during "Hurricane Georges Relief Fund 1998". This event was transmitted live across the northeastern United States by the NBC television network. He also participated at an event at Hostos Community College for the same purpose.
Awards and recognition
Pacheco's contributions to Latin Music have been recognized throughout his illustrious career. The following are among the awards that have been bestowed upon him:In 1996, the then President of the Dominican Republic, Joaquín Balaguer, bestowed him with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Honor. A year later, Pacheco was the recipient of the Bobby Capó Lifetime Achievement Award, awarded by New York Governor George Pataki. In addition, Pacheco was presented with the First International Dominican Artist Award from the distinguished Casandra Awards. In June 1996, Johnny Pacheco was the first Latin music producer to receive the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, (NARAS) Governor's Award in New York City.In 1998, Pacheco was inducted to [International Latin Music Hall of Fame\] (ILMHF) during the first Induction and Award of the ILMHF. The ILMHF awarded him The Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2002.In 2004, Pacheco was awarded the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, ASCAP Silver Pen Award.On June 5, 2005, Pacheco was honored by Union City, New Jersey with a star on the Walk of Fame at Union City's Celia Cruz Park.On March 24, 2009, Pacheco was awarded "El Soberano", the highest distinction given by the Association of Art Columnists of the Dominican Republic.