Dominican singer and bandleader Johnny Ventura passed away on Wednesday at the age of 81,

NBC

reports

.

Juan de Dios Ventura Soriano, as his real name was, became known at home and abroad with his merengue and salsa music.

Ventura was nicknamed the 'Father of the merengue' because he modernized and exported the music and dance style that originated in the Dominican Republic with his

Combo Show

.

He released over a hundred records and was still active when he felt unwell on Wednesday night and died not long after.

According to local media, a heart attack appears to have been the cause of death.

Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra praised Ventura as "the man who showed everyone what merengue really is. Thanks, don Johnny".

President Luis Abinader called Ventura "an icon" and "the merengue master".

He has declared three days of national mourning.

Ventura started his musical career at the age of sixteen and became one of the most famous singers in Latin America, with songs such as

Patacón Pisao

,

Merenguero hasta la tambora

,

Ah..!

Yo no se...no

en

Las indias de Bani

.

He almost immediately became a star in that country on his first trip to the US in 1967. But Ventura was also politically active. He was deputy mayor and mayor of the capital Santo Domingo from 1994 to 2002.