Fernando Villalona

More than 30 years ago, a lanky Dominican kid with a deep and piercing voice could do no better than third-place in "El Festival de la Voz" ("The Festival of the Voice"), a local talent show organized by local artists in his native Santo Domingo. The performance left such a positive impression that the kid, who grew up to be merengue legend Fernando Villalona, found himself singing alongside some of the genre's pioneers, like Wilfrido Vargas and Los Hijos Del Rey, to help get his career off the ground. Today, Villalona is widely hailed as one of the most musically skilled and influential exponents of the merengue genre ever to come out of the Dominican Republic. His propensity to add a soulful touch to the sensual lyrics of his music and his vocal range opened doors all over the world for Villalona as he toured with his own orchestra in the 1980s. He also achieved international stardom as songs like "Celos" ("Jealousies"), "Te Amo Demasiado" ("I Love You Too Much"), and "Baila en la Calle" ("Dance in the Streets") became hits throughout Latin America. Despite struggling with personal setbacks, including a divorce and drug use, he managed to stay afloat musically with a bevy of tracks that scored big several years later. In terms of merengue, Villalona is the real deal — a throwback from days long gone — and his music can make anyone with a pulse get up and dance.

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Fernando Ruano Jr.