Merengue star Johnny Ventura died on Wednesday in Dominican Republic at 81years old. Ventura, who was known as “El Caballo Mayor” – the great horse – was recognized for modernizing merengue, a Dominican style of music and dance popular throughout Latin America.

The country’s Ministry of Culture posted about the star’s death on Twitter, writing: “We join in the pain that overwhelms his family in these difficult times. His legacy will live forever in his songs and Dominican culture.”

Ventura, a singer, songwriter, bandleader and arranger had several hit songs, including “Patacón pisao” and “Capullo y sorullo.” The Latin Grammy-winning artist also received a lifetime achievement award from the awards show in 2006, the Associated Press reports.

He won a Latin Grammy in 2004 for best merengue album for “Sin waste.” The Latin Recording Academy also awarded him a lifetime achievement award. 

“We deeply regret the loss of a beloved teacher and legend of Latin music,” academy tweeted. “He contributed for many years as part of the Board of Directors of the Latin Academy.”

Ventura is also known for hits “¿Pitaste?” and “Merenguero hasta la tambora.” He was the leader of Combo Show de Johnny Ventura, his own Orchestra.

In 2015, he was named King of New York City’s Dominican Day Parade, alongside MLB player Pedro Martinez. The National Dominican Day Parade posted about Ventura on Instagram Thursday. “What a legacy he has left to music fans all over the world and to his beloved Dominican Community,” they wrote.

On Wednesday, Ventura appeared dancing in a video posted on his Facebook page. “I miss the human warmth of my audience, we are going to protect ourselves to return to normal soon,” the caption read. He was very active on social media, sharing videos of his recent performances into his 80s.

Born Juan de Dios Ventura Soriano in 1940, he graduated summa cum laude in law at the University of the Third Age, according to the AP. 

Ventura also became trustee – or mayor – of Santo Domingo from 1998 to 2002 with the Dominican Revolutionary Party. He was married for more than 50 years to Nelly Josefina Flores. They had seven children, including musicians Jandy and Juan José.

 In 2020 the Dominican Congress awarded him Merenguero del Siglo – merengue performer of the century.