The song that launched the golden voice

By Herbert Vego

MY friend Ting Aquino – who knows I had covered the entertainment beat in Manila — asked for my reaction to the conferment of the National Artist Award to singer/actress Nora Aunor.

“It should have been given years earlier,” I answered.

Nora is one of this year’s eight recipients of the Order of National Artist, the highest recognition given by the national government to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the country’s arts and culture.

Her fans lamented that Nora could not show up for the conferment in Malacañang last June 16 but was instead represented by her son Ian; she had been confined in a hospital for an undisclosed disease.

Nora had been nominated for the once-every-four-years award twice –first in 2014 and second in 2018 — but to no avail.

I could understand why Ting, an Aunor admirer, had sought my two cents’ worth on the belated recognition. I had written a series of illustrated anecdotes on her for the defunct Daily Express in the 1970s, which I eventually published in the book Getting to Know Nora.

I remember that in one of those tidbits, I wrote about “People” that had launched her to national prominence – referring to the song originally sung by Barbra Streisand. It was the final song that she sang to become the grand champion of the then famous weekly TV show “Tawag ng Tanghalan” for the year 1967.

“People who need people,” the song begins, “are the luckiest people in the world.”

She immersed herself in that song which subtly depicted the career of the late American singer-actress Fanny Brice, who had to “need” her gambler lover to keep her star rising.

Nora had previously sung in “Tawag ng Tanghalan” where she lost, but it did not deter her from rejoining the competition.

Little did she know that the song People would be her ticket to national fame in the music and movie industries. She drew the attention of the big bosses of Sampaguita Pictures and Alpha Recording Co., who signed her up for movie and music-recording contracts, respectively.

The Filipino people having gone gaga over her, the rest is history known to people of her generation. For whatever inspiration it may spark in today’s aspiring artists, let us go down memory lane.

Both as a child and teenager, the petite and plain Nora Villamayor (her real name) had to sell bottled water at the train station of Iriga City in order to buy decent dresses for amateur singing contests.

Her first good luck beckoned in 1964 when she placed second in Nabua, Camarines Sur for her song You and the Night and the Music, winning thirty pesos.

She was by then a high school freshman at the Mabini Memorial University in Iriga.

The school principal, Timoteo Panga, asked Nora and her classmate Elmer Aballa (the first placer in the aforesaid singing contest) to represent the freshmen in the intramural.  They had to compete against each other, however, since only one would be sent to Cabanatuan City for the national PRISAA meet in 1965.  It was Elmer who won.

“Nora was a good sport that early,” Elmer eventually told me during a 1971 interview for an article that I would write for the defunct Weekly Nation magazine. “When I left for the PRISAA, Nora was my most enthusiastic well-wisher.  It was unfortunate I lost to a Cebuana.”

Nora was indeed not the type of person who would easily give up. Long before her “Tawag” call, she had joined and won an equally prestigious singing contest on radio station dzRH, Darigold Jamboree.

May her National Artist Award beget a new chapter in the career of Nora Aunor, now 69.



HATS off to MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro, who never runs out of ideas in the company’s exercise of corporate social responsibility in Iloilo City.

We know already that employees and contractors of MORE Power regularly conduct clean-up drives, tree planting activities, and release of fish fingerlings at the Iloilo River.

But there’s one more. This time, MORE Power is active in sustainable environmental protection and preservation through its third-party security personnel, who dropped their firearms last Saturday so that they could carry broomsticks and sacks instead.

Calling themselves “Guardians of the Environment,” they enthusiastically rid Villa Beach of 15 sacks of debris and garbage. They themed the day’s activity, “A greener earth, one community at a time.”

MORE Power’s security chief, Rudin Tunting, said, “Everyone has a role to play in our society, but looking after Mother Nature is everyone’s responsibility.”

That’s walking an extra mile for the security team whose job is to secure the facilities and offices of the company and to apprehend power pilferers.