Beloved singer Joseíto Mateo has died at the age of 98. As Listín Diario reports, the Dominican merengue pioneer died today at 11:45 a.m. in Santo Domingo’s Hospital de las Fuerzas Armadas. The cause of death was medical complications from leukemia, which he was diagnosed with last November.
El Rey de Merengue launched his career during the 1930s. In the 50s, he made a name for himself as a member of la Orquesta San José, one of the country’s top merengue bands. Over the course of his 80-year career, Mateo witnessed the rise of merengue in Dominican popular culture and its transformation from a maligned music of the underclass to a symbol of national identity, due in part to financial and ideological support from dictator Rafael Trujillo. In 1955, he traveled to Cuba to perform with the legendary Sonora Matancera alongside Celia Cruz.
He was best known for hits like “Cuando Yo Me Muera,” “Merenguero Hasta la Tambora,” and his rendition of Alberto Beltrán’s “El Negrito del Batey.” In 2010, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Latin Grammys for shaping the genre as we know it today.