Johnny Ventura, Dominican merengue legend, dead at 81

SANTIAGO, Dominican Republic — Johnny Ventura, a pioneer and legend of merengue, died Wednesday in the Dominican Republic, his son said. He was 81.

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The singer, known as the “Caballo Mayor” because of his tenure as the mayor of Santo Domingo from 1998 to 2002, died of a heart attack in Santiago, his son, Jandy Ventura, told CNN.

“The Ministry of Culture deeply regrets the death of the great Dominican musician Johnny Ventura,” government officials in the Dominican Republic tweeted in Spanish. “We join the pain that overwhelms his family in these difficult times. His legacy will live on forever in his songs and Dominican culture.”

Johnny Ventura, whose real name was Juan de Dios Ventura Soriano, was born in Santo Domingo and began his singing career as a teenager, Rolling Stone reported.

When he was 16, Ventura won a local talent show contest on television called “La Voz de la Alegria,” according to Rolling Stone.

He began his professional career in the early 1960s and was dubbed “El Caballo Negro,” according to Billboard. Some of his biggest hits included tropical hits such as “Patacon Pisao,” “¿Pitaste?” and “Merenguero Hasta la Tambora,” the website reported.

Ventura’s music has charted on several genres on Billboard, including Hot Latin Songs, Top Latin Albums, Tropical Airplay and Tropical Albums.

Ventura recorded dozens of albums during his 60-year career, NBC News reported. He won six Latin Music Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 to honor his “contributions of outstanding artistic significance to Latin music,” according to the Latin Recording Academy.

In the late 1960s, Ventura traveled to New York and played with some of the salsa greats of the era, including Celia Cruz, El Grupo Niche and Wilfrido Vargas, Rolling Stone reported.

On social media, singers such as Olga Tañon and Manny Cruz, expressed their condolences.

“My admiration for you always,” Tañon wrote on Instagram. “You always treated me with so much affection and respect! I made my dream of recording with you a reality! You are a great defender of merengue music for the whole world!”

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

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