In 1964, Fania Records was founded in New York City by Jerry Masucci, an Italian-American lawyer with a love for Cuban music, and Johnny Pacheco, a flutist, percussionist and bandleader born in the Dominican Republic but raised in the South Bronx who had like minded musical tastes. Masucci later bought out his partner Pacheco from Fania Entertainment Group, Ltd. and was the sole owner until his death in December 1997.
Throughout the early years, Fania used to distribute its records around New York. Eventually success from Pacheco's Cañonazo recording would lead the label to develop its roster. Masucci and Pacheco, now executive negotiator and musical director respectively, began
In 1968, Fania Records created a continuously revolving line-up of entertainers known as the Fania All-Stars. They were considered some of the best Latin Music performers in the world at that time. The original lineup consisted of:
- Band Leaders: Ray Barretto, Joe Bataan, Willie Colon, Larry Harlow, Monguito, Johnny Pacheco, Louie Ramirez, Ralph Robles, Mongo Santamaria, and Bobby Valentin.
- Singers; Hector Lavoe, Adalberto Santiago, Pete "Conde" Rodríguez, and Ismael Miranda.
- Other Musicians; La La, Ray Maldonado, Ralph Marzan, Orestes Vilató, Roberto Rodriguez, Jose Rodriguez, and Barry Rogers.
- Special Guests; Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Ricardo Ray and Jimmy Sabater.
They recorded Live At The Red Garter, Volumes 1 and 2 with this original lineup. In 1971 they recorded Fania All-Stars: Live At The Cheetah, Volumes 1 and 2. It exhibited the entire All-Star family performing before a capacity audience in New
York City's Cheetah Lounge.
Following sell-out concerts in Puerto Rico, Chicago, and Panama, the All-Stars embarked on their first appearance at New York's Yankee Stadium on August 24, 1973. The Stars performed before more than 40,000 spectators in a concert that featured Ray Barretto, Willie Colón, Edwin Tito Asencio, Rubén Blades, Larry Harlow, Johnny Pacheco, Roberto Roena, Pellín Rodríguez, Bobby Valentín, and Jorge Santana (younger brother of Carlos Santana), Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, Ismael Miranda, Justo Betancourt, Ismael Quintana, Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, Bobby Cruz and Santos Colón. Live at Yankee Stadium was included in the second set of 50 recordings in the U.S. National Recording Registry, solidifying the All-Stars as "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant."
In 1974, the All Stars performed in Zaire, Africa, at the 80,000-seat Stade du 20 mai in Kinshasa. This was captured on film and released as Live in Africa (Salsa Madness in the UK). This Zairean appearance occurred along with James Brown and others at a music festival held in conjunction with the Muhammad Ali/George Foreman heavyweight title fight. Footage of the performance was included in the 2008 documentary Soul Power.
To attain a wider market for salsa music, Fania made a deal with Columbia Records in the US for a series of crossover albums by the All-Stars, beginning with Delicate & Jumpy (1976), in which Steve Winwood united with the All-Stars' Pacheco, Valentin, Barreto, and Roena. During the same year, the Fania All-Stars made their sole UK appearance, at London's Lyceum Ballroom, with Winwood appearing as guest.
In 1978 the All-Stars released Live, recorded in concert on July 11, 1975 at San Juan's Roberto Clemente Coliseum. In 1979, they travelled to Havana, Cuba, to participate in the Havana Jam festival that took place between 2–4 March, alongside Rita Coolidge, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Stills, the CBS Jazz All-Stars, Trio of Doom, Billy Swan, Bonnie Bramlett, Weather Report, and Billy Joel, plus Cuban artists such as Irakere, Pacho Alonso, Tata Güines, and Orquesta Aragón. Their performance is captured on Ernesto Juan Castellanos's documentary Havana Jam '79. During the same year the All-Stars released Crossover and Havana Jam on Fania, which came from a concert recorded in Havana on March 2.