Johnny Ventura, legendary Dominican merengue singer, dies at 81

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Legendary Dominican singer Johnny Ventura died Wednesday at the age of 81, according to officials in the Dominican Republic.

"The Ministry of Culture deeply regrets the death of the great Dominican musician Johnny Ventura," the government entity 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."

His son, Jandy Ventura, told Dominican press that his father died in a hospital after having a heart attack.

The late singer began his music career in the early 1960s after joining several Latin music orchestras. But he rose to prominence once he created his own salsa and merengue orchestra, known as the "Combo Show," becoming one of the most popular Dominican artists of all time.

Ventura, who was deemed as the "Elvis of merengue" by some in the music industry, recorded dozens of albums throughout his 60-year career. 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.

"Today is a very sad day for merengue and for the Dominican Republic. 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," Dominican First Lady Raquel Arbaje tweeted in Spanish.

After reaching superstar status in the music industry, Ventura went into politics. He served as the vice mayor of Santo Domingo from 1994 to 1998, and as mayor of Santo Domingo from 1998 to 2002.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., who is also the first Dominican-American elected to Congress, remembered Ventura as "a good friend."

"He was a man of his word, a man of endless talent, a national treasure, and an icon of the Dominican community," Espaillat tweeted. "My heart breaks now that he's gone, but his spirit must — and will — live on. Rest in power, brother."

Ventura is surivived by his wife of 50 years, Nelly Josefina Flores, seven children, 17 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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