Poncho Sanchez (born October 30, 1951) is a Latin jazz artist, salsa singer, band leader and conguero (conga player). In 2000, Sanchez and his ensemble won the Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album for their work on the Concord Picante album Latin Soul. A jazz great in himself, Sanchez has performed with artists Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, Hugh Masakela, Clare Fischer and Tower of Power, among others.
The youngest of eleven children, Poncho Sanchez was born in Laredo, the seat of Webb County, Texas. He was reared in Norwalk, California. Growing up, Sanchez was exposed to and influenced by two very different styles of music: Afro-Cuban music (mambo, son, cha-cha, rumba, guaracha, salsa) by greats such as Tito Puente, and bebop jazz, including the works of Charlie Parker. Originally a guitarist, he discovered his talent for singing during an audition for an R&B band that rehearsed across the street from where he lived, becoming the lead vocalist of the group. Sanchez would later go on to teach himself the flute, drums, and timbales before finally deciding to pursue conga-playing in high school.
In 1975, at age 23, Sanchez's idol, vibraphonist Cal Tjader, invited him to perform one set with his band. Seeing the young man's talent, Tjader hired Sanchez for a week before officially making him a full member of the ensemble. Sanchez played a crucial role as conguero for several years until Tjader's death in 1982.
Before he died, Tjader suggested that Concord Records founder Carl Jefferson sign Sanchez and his soon-to-be-formed group under the Concord Picante label. Tjader's wishes were honored, and the first two records were composed and arranged by long-time Tjader collaborator Clare Fischer.
Poncho Sanchez went on to produce 19 albums for the label, eventually garnering a Grammy for his work. Currently, Sanchez is respected as one of the top American percussionists of our time. He performs frequently in venues varying in size from concert halls to local jazz festivals. His 2005 CD, Do It!, features funk icon Tower of Power on two tracks as well as South African funk master Hugh Masakela.