Sylvia La Torre, soprano with pop culture flair; 89
Singer-actress Sylvia La Torre, whose distinguished career as a performer encompassed not only the music industry but also stage, film and television, died on Thursday morning in Los Angeles, California.
La Torre, 89, “died peacefully in her sleep,” her granddaughter, actress-singer Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, said on Instagram, adding that she was surrounded by her husband of 68 years, Dr. Celso Perez de Tagle, and their children, Artie, Bernie and Che-Che.
Born in Manila on June 4, 1933, La Torre was the child of film director Olive La Torre and actress Leonora Reyes. She was exposed early in their milieu of show business, winning her first singing competition at age 5 and, three years later, appearing in her first movie, Gerardo de Leon’s “Ang Maestra (1941).”
At 9 years old, La Torre made her debut as a vaudeville performer at Manila’s Grand Opera House, where she became a regular and starred in shows like dancer-comedian Bayani Casimiro’s “Merry-Go-Round.”
She still took formal studies despite her already considerable exposure to the music scene. A coloratura soprano, she earned a degree in music, majoring in voice, at the conservatory of University of Santo Tomas.
From ‘kundiman’ to TV
La Torre’s career began to flourish in the 1950s, when she recorded hundreds of folk songs and “kundiman,” Filipino love songs written between the late 19th century and mid-20th century.
She thrived in that genre, earning the title “queen of Kundiman.” But this soprano also conquered the various media of pop culture.
It was her recording of Levi Celerio and Manuel Velez’s “Sa Kabukiran” that would become La Torre’s signature. Among her other popular songs were “Waray Waray,” “Kalesa” and “Mutya ng Pasig.”
Her comedy show “Edong Mapangarap” on DZRH became a television series titled “Tang-Tarang-Tang” on ABS-CBN in 1962.
She came to be known as well as the “First Lady of Philippine Television,” as she cohosted the 1960s evening variety show “Oras ng Ligaya,” before starring in various soap operas.
La Torre continued to act on TV and film well into the 1990s and early 2000s. She moved to the United States in her later years, where she continued performing for Filipino-American communities.
‘Melody will linger on’
In his tribute piece posted on the Golden Globes website last March, then Inquirer Entertainment columnist Ruben Nepales noted that one of La Torre’s last public performances was with the Filipino-American Symphony Orchestra in 2017.
Mitch Valdes, who cohosted the “Tony Santos Presents” TV show with La Torre, said the late artist never failed to make her smile.
“You brought out a smile in me, sometimes a guffaw, with your good humor and cheer. You were quite the proper lady, mother, wife, homemaker, classical singer, but when you hit the kengkoy button—My gas! Keeping up with you was a joy. We were like twins. So rest well, you did good,” Valdes said.
Sylvia’s granddaughter, Anna Maria, described La Torre as a “loving mother, grandmother and great mother, a caring aunt and an affectionate friend.”
“My grandmother was my first inspiration when it came to singing and acting. She was my first vocal coach and taught me all of her kundimans,” Anna Maria said. “Thank you for passing on your love of music to me and I will surely continue your legacy.”
“Gone too soon but always in our hearts. Your song has ended but your melody will linger on. Love you, Mama Cita.”
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