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Johnny Pacheco and Larry Harlow

A closeup shot of Johnny Pacheco
Tim Larsen
Bandleader Johnny Pacheco

Flutist Johnny Pacheco died on Feb. 15, and pianist Larry Harlow died on Aug. 20. These two influential musicians brought a cross-cultural phenomenon to the world through a record company called Fania.

In 1964, multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Johnny Pacheco and his friend Jerry Masucci started a tiny record label called Fania. The company grew to become the powerhouse of Latin music known as the Motown of salsa.

"Salsa" music grew out of the 1960s Latin soul and boogaloo movement. Fania became a movement of its own.

By 1968, Fania Records had signed a mind-boggling roster of top Latin musicians like Celia Cruz, Ray Barretto, Willie Colon and Hector LaVoe. It was decided to throw them all together in a touring and recording group called the Fania All-Stars, with Pacheco as bandleader.

The Fania All-Stars sold out club dates and huge concert venues in Puerto Rico, Chicago and Panama, and played to an audience of more than 50,000 at Yankee Stadium in 1973.

In 1974, their audience overflowed an 80,000-seat stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire.

Larry Harlow was a pianist, arranger, producer and activist, known affectionately to his fans and fellow musicians as "El judío maravilloso" (The Marvelous Jew). He was Fania’s music director.

Harlow studied at the New York High School of Music and Arts and studied Afro-Cuban music in Havana in the late 1950s, leaving just as the Cuban Revolution took over the country in 1959.

He’s been called the “Frank Zappa of salsa,” and he loved to collaborate with other musicians on special projects, like his adaptation of The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy,” which Harlow re-imagined as a salsa opera. He called it “Hommy," transferring the original British characters to the Latino barrios of New York.

Harlow was an advocate for Latin musicians. He fought for their fair representation at the Grammy Awards and was himself presented with the Trustees Award during the 2008 Latin Grammy award ceremony.

Johnny Pacheco and Larry Harlow together were also the "bad boy" bandleaders of salsa, the envy of rock stars for their ability to party, well, like rock stars.

Their legacy is a uniquely American blend of musical cultures.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.