The youngest of eleven children, Poncho Sanchez was born in Laredo, 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, Changui and Son) by greats such as Tito Puente, and bebop jazz, including the works of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Originally a guitarist, he discovered his talent for singing during an audition for an R&B band "The Halos" that rehearsed across the street from where he lived with his neighborhood friend Ralph Vasquez then 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.