“The National Artist Award is the highest distinction bestowed upon Filipino Artists whose body of work is recognized by their peers and more importantly by their countrymen as sublime expression of Philippine music, dance, theatre, visual arts, literature, film and media, arts, architecture and design. These are artists who have promoted Filipino cultural identity and dignity through their art.” – National Commission for Culture and the Arts
A National Artist is defined as “a Filipino citizen who has been given the rank and title of National Artist in recognition of his or her significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts and letters.” It was established by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1001, s. 1972. As of present, the National Artist Award has been given to sixty-six (66) Filipino individuals.
Here are a few outstanding recipients of the National Artist Award in theater, music and literature.
Levi Celerio (April 30, 1910 – April 2, 2002)
Composer and lyricist Levi Celerio made a lasting mark in the hearts of Filipinos with his well-loved Christmas songs like “Pasko na Naman”, “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit,” and “Misa de Gallo”. As soon as the “Ber” months set in the Philippines, expect young carolers to come to your door singing these classic Yuletide songs.
Celerio was born in Tondo on April 30, 1910. He became a scholar at the Academy of Music in Manila. He later joined the Manila Symphony Orchestra and became its youngest member.
Love for music dominated Celerio’s life. The musical genius wrote the lyrics of more than 4,000 Filipino folk, Christmas, and love songs. Many of his songs were used as titles of Philippine movies. He wrote numerous songs for local films. Celerio was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Film Academy of the Philippines.
He is noted for lyrics that celebrated love, stressed Filipino values and expressed nationalistic sentiments.
Celerio earned his spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for his unique leaf-playing talent. He was tagged as the “only leaf player in the world.”
Some of his timeless works include “Ang Pipit,” “Dungawin Mo Hirang,” “Bagong Pagsilang,” “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan,” “Itik-itik,” “Tunay na Tunay,” “Tinikling,” “Waray-Waray,” “Pitong Gatang,” “Saan Ka Man Naroroon?,” “Ako ay May Singsing,” “Dahil Sa Isang Bulaklak,” Kahit Konting Pagtingin, “Ikaw,” “O Maliwanag na Buwan,” “Bagong Pagsilang,” “Sapagkat Kami’y Tao Lamang,” “Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal,” “Kapag Puso’y Sinugatan,” “Alibangbang,” “Alembong,” “Galawgaw,” “Caprichosa,” “Ang Tapis ni Inday,” “Umaga na Neneng,” “Ikaw Kasi,” and “Basta’t Mahal Kita.”
Celerio is also behind nationalistic songs like “Tinig ng Bayan,” “Ang Bagong Lipunan,” and “Lupang Pangarap.”
On October 9, 1997, Celerio was awarded National Artist in Music and Literature by President Fidel V. Ramos.
He died on April 2, 2002 at the age of 91. He lies at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Felipe Padilla de Leon (May 1, 1912 – December 5, 1992)
Composer, conductor, and scholar Felipe Padilla de Leon was responsible for translating the lyrics of the Philippine National Anthem from Spanish to Tagalog.
He was born in Peñaranda, Nueva Ecija on May 1, 1912. He studied in Manila and the United States.
De Leon is best known for Filipinizing western music forms. His compositions for orchestra include “Mariang Makiling Overture” (1939), “Roca Encantada” (1950), “Maynila Overture” (1976), and“Orchesterstuk” (1981); and for choral music “Ako’y Pilipino,” “Lupang Tinubuan,” and “Ama Namin.” He also wrote classic songs like “Bulaklak,” “Alitaptap,” “Mutya ng Lahi,” and the kundiman “Sarong Banggi”.
His love for country reflected in his works like “Payapang Daigdig” which he wrote on the day he saw the destruction of the city of Manila during World War II and “Bagong Lipunan.” De Leon also composed full-length Filipino operas “Noli Me Tangere” (1957) and “ El Filibusterismo (1970).
De Leon became a columnist in the Manila Times, Taliba, and others. He promoted Philippine music and culture in his articles and lectures. He established the organizations like Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Inc. (FILSCAP) and Pambansang Samahan ng mga Bandas sa Pilipinas (PASAMBAP).
He received various awards and distinctions including Republic Cultural Heritage Award, Doctor of Humanities from UP, Rizal Pro-Patria Award, Presidential Award of Merit, and Patnubay ng Kalinangan Award.
In 1997, De Leon was posthumously named National Artist of the Philippines for music by President Fidel V. Ramos.
Atang de la Rama (January 11, 1905 – July 11, 1991)
Honorata de la Rama Hernandez, more popularly known as Atang de la Rama was a renowned singer and performer. She was considered as the first star of the Philippine Cinema.
She was born in Pandacan, Manila on January 11, 1905. At the tender age of five, De la Rama appeared in Spanish zarzuelas “Mascota, Sueño de un Vals” and “Marina.” When she reached the age of 15, De la Rama shined in the sarsuela “Dalagang Bukid.” During the American occupation of the Philippines, she helped foster the love for the Philippine folk song, kundiman. She was named “Queen of the Kundiman and of the Sarsuela” in 1979.
She was married to National Artist for Literature, Amado V. Hernandez.
On May 8, 1987, De la Rama was proclaimed National Artist of the Philippines for Theater and Music by President Corazon C. Aquino.
She died on July 11, 1991.
F. Sionil Jose (December 3, 1924)
Francisco Sionil Jose or F. Sionil Jose was born on December 3, 1924. He is a journalist and fictionist.
Jose was born in Rosales, Pangasinan. He took pre-medicine courses at the Manila College of Pharmacy and Dentistry. He later took Liberal Arts at the University of Santo Tomas where he became the editor-in-chief of the “The Vasitarian,” the university’s paper.
Jose worked for different international and local publications including the United States Information Service (USIS), Sunday Times, Comment, Commonwealth, and Asia Magazine. He was the publisher of Solidaridad Publishing House. He runs Solidaridad Bookshop located at Padre Faura Street in Ermita, Manila with his wife. The bookshop features Filipiniana reading materials and hard-to-find books. He has a regular column in The Philippine Star called “Hindsight.”
Jose founded the PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) Philippine Center in 1958
He lectures at Arellano University, University of the East graduate school, and at the De La Salle University.
He has written numerous novels, short stories, and essays. His works have been translated into various languages including Russian, Latvian, Ukranian, Dutch, Indonesian, and Ilocano.
In 2001, Jose was declared a National Artist for Literature.
Photos: “Levi celerio” screencap from Youtube; “Felipe Padilla de Leon” c/o WikiPilipinas, Public domain; “Atang de la Rama” c/o WikiFilipino, Public domain; F. Sionil Jose screencap from Youtube.
Videos c/o Youtube.