© 2023 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Dominican Merengue Star Johnny Ventura Dies At 81

Johnny Ventura, seen here at the Latin Grammys in 2013, died at the age of 81 on Wednesday.
Jason Merritt
Getty Images
Johnny Ventura, seen here at the Latin Grammys in 2013, died at the age of 81 on Wednesday.

The popular Dominican merengue musician Johnny Ventura has died. According to Dominican news media, the 81-year-old musician died after a sudden heart attack in his home country on Wednesday. The news was later confirmed by Ventura's son on social media.

Ventura started life as Juan de Dios Ventura Soriano, and became well-known as El Caballo Mayor, as both his husky voice and the very danceable, Afro-Caribbean style of his chosen music became popular across Latin America.

Starting in the 1960s, Ventura had a string of hits that became classics ("Patacon Pisao," "Pitaste," "Merenguero Hasta La Tumbadora") and also transformed merengue from a folk music to an international sensation. He further modernized the music by adding complex horn arrangements and even elements of rock and roll, which became a useful canvas for Ventura's elaborate stage choreography and musical arrangements.

Just before his death, Ventura had posted about how much he was looking forward to performing in front of his fans after the long pandemic lockdown.

Ventura's career coincided with a renewed interest in Afro-Caribbean music, thanks in no small part to New York-based record label Fania Records, which revived interest in work from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the late '60s and throughout the '70s. The merenguero earned the respect and admiration of salsa stars like Celia Cruz, who recorded several songs featuring the hip-swinging style. Ventura also ventured into politics, serving first as vice mayor of the Dominican Republic's capital city of Santo Domingo from 1994 to 1998, then as mayor from 1998 to 2002.

The grand dame of Cuban song, Omara Portuondo, paid tribute to Ventura on Twitter from her home in Havana: "Artista inmenso, corazón radiante y alegre 'hasta la tumbadora. Gracias, nunca te olvidaremos."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

Related Content