Sunday, April 8, 2012

*289. JIMMY NAVARRO: Radio’s Mr. Melody of the 50s

HEY, MR. MELODY! Jimmy Navarro, the radio star of many PMC-sponsored musicales, is part-Kapampangan, with a mother from Bacolor. He found fame as the other half of the singing duo "Jimmy and Priscilla" in the mid 50s.

Of the personalities that emerged from the highly popular radio musicales of the 1950s sponsored by corporate brands like Lux, Gloco, Tide and Perla Soap, none were more well-known than “Jimmy and Priscilla”, whose pleasing combination of melody ranked as the best loved duo of Philippine tunes on the local airwaves.

Priscilla was born Presentacion Bataclan in Malate, and she would find early fame at age 14 as the “Kolynos Girl”, the toothpaste-sponsored singing belle who captivated audiences of KZRM programs that included “Kolynos Hour”, “Cashmere Bouquet with Bimbo Danao” and “Klim”. She was already married for over 6 years to Bernardo Aristorenas when she staged a comeback n the early ‘50s, as the other half of the singing tandem “Jimmy and Priscilla”.

Jimmy Navarro was actually younger than Priscilla, and his entertainment career started only after the Liberation. He was born Jaime Navarro to Fortunata Lorenzo of Bacolor, Pampanga and Santiago Mason Navarro of La Union. His parents were not musically inclined, so it came as a surprise that Jimmy, at age 12, sang publicly for the first time, a vernacular song entitled “Paraluman”.

At age 15, he got his first taste of singing for the radio audience on the “Search For Talent” program on KZRH located at the Heacock Building in Escolta. The much-followed program was produced by Levi Mat. Castro whose family members were into singing, performing, directing, producing and scriptwriting for the airwaves. That preliminary taste of success prompted Jimmy to talk to his folks out of continuing his education. Instead of enrolling a local college as his parents wished, the talented teen accepted an offer from Luz Mat. Castro to sing for her.

But radio didn’t readily accept Jimmy with welcoming arms. There were times when he was off the air for two months. But even with expiring contracts, he practiced his singing, voice, diction and dramatics daily. Still, no projects came and dejected, he momentarily put on hold his radio dreams to join the Army.

Jimmy was a buck sergeant when the War broke out. He saw action in Bataan, and when the province fell, he joined the Luzon Guerrilla Army Force which waged underground assaults in Pangasinan.

With the closing of the War, Jimmy found himself a singing job at the Liberator’s Club, which mostly had G.I.’s as customers. His audience soon thinned out due to regular discharges, so he auditioned and got accepted as a member of Francisco Gomez’s radio troupe at DZRH, called “The Malayan Stars”. Gomez spotlighted him on two of his daily programs: “Sunrise” and “Sundowners”. Coached by Moning Almario, Jimmy furthered his radio career on DZRH, doing solos and duets for Luz Mat. Castro’s “Sampaguita Radio Stars”, the Mabuhay Musical Club and many other radio groups.

His biggest break came when he clicked in Ira Davis’s PMC-sponsored “PMC Perla”. The Philippine Manufacturing Company then was a corporate giant affiliated with the Procter & Gamble Company of the U.S., known for selling their many brands like Camay, Purico, Vicks and Perla--through the radio. PMC’s most successful program was “Tawag ng Tanghalan”, a talent search program that started on radio before moving to TV in 1958. A long-term contract followed plus starring roles in a succession of musical programs produced and promoted by PMC. Jimmy made discs with Bataan Records (“Kung Batid Mo Lamang”) and also sang songs for the movies.

When the all-Filipino musicale “Vicks Variety Show” was launched, Jimmy and Priscilla’s divergent career paths converged with the creation of the singing duo—Jimmy and Priscilla. Their pleasing voices and rich harmonies would gain them a bigger radio fan base, peaking in the mid 50s. Backed by Leopoldo Silos and his Vicks Variety Orchestra, Jimmy and Priscilla sang kundimans, balitaws and melodies that reflected every shade of the ways of Filipino life.

Jimmy Navarro’s fine singing voice continued to be heard over the radio through the 60s, as well as on the new TV medium occasionally. He married a fellow radio voice talent named Nelda Lopez , who as Nelda Navarro, became a well-known personality in the TV-Radio circuit. Their daughter is the singer-activist Leah Navarro, who became a popular singer during the 70s decade of Original Pilipino Music.

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