Dominican merengue singer dies at 81

File: Johnny Ventura at the 14th Annual Latin Grammy Awards (Getty Images)

File: Johnny Ventura at the 14th Annual Latin Grammy Awards (Getty Images)

Famous Dominican singer and performer Johnny Ventura died of a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 81, officials said.

Ventura, whose real name was Juan de Dios Ventura Soriano, is survived by Nelly Josefina Flores, his wife of 50 years and seven children, 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The Ministry of Culture of the Dominican Republic announced the news of his death on Twitter.

“The Ministry of Culture deeply regrets the death of the great Dominican musician Johnny Ventura,” they wrote in Spanish. “We join in the pain that overwhelms their families in these difficult times. His legacy will live forever in his songs and Dominican culture.”

Jandy Ventura, one of the singer’s sons, confirmed the news.

Ventura is considered one of the most popular performers of merengue, a form of music and dance that originated in the Dominican Republic and a popular genre of music across Latin America. The art form has caught on in several US cities with large Latin communities as well.

Ventura has had several nicknames given to him, including being called the “Elvis of merengue” and “El Caballo Negro”, which means “The Dark Horse” in Spanish.

He began his career as a singer in several bands and orchestras that performed in “La Feria” or fairs in the Dominican Republic. He worked with the orchestra of Rondón Votau and in 1961, with the band of the Dominican percussionist Donald Wild.

He rose to fame in 1964 after creating his own orchestra known as “Combo Show,” cementing his place and the band’s, as an integral part in the history of popular Dominican music.

In 1965, Ventura recorded the albums La Coquetona, La Resbalosa and El Turun Tun Tun with the “Combo Show”. In 1971, they recorded one of their most popular albums, Ah..! Yo No Se… No.

Many songs that were performed by him, including “Patacon Pisao”, “¿Pitaste?” and “Merenguero Hasta la Tambora”, are common fixtures in Latin households.

Ventura also traveled to the US in 1967, where he immediately became a star.

In his 60-year-long career, he won six Latin Grammys and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 for “contributions of outstanding artistic significance to Latin music,” according to the Latin Recording Academy, reported NBC News.

Late into his career, he ventured into politics and became the vice mayor of Santo Domingo city from 1994 to 1998 and mayor from 1998 to 2002.

“Today is a very sad day for merengue and for the Dominican Republic. Johnny Ventura, El Caballo Mayor, has left us physically, but his legacy and joy will always be with us,” Dominican First Lady Raquel Arbaje tweeted in Spanish. “My solidarity hug to your loved ones.”

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