Jazz Across the Pond: Katy de la Cruz

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Isay Alvarez portraying Katy de la Cruz in a promotional shot for "Katy!" a musical based on de la Cruz's life.

Born on February 13, 1907, in Bustos, Bulacan, Philippines, Katy de la Cruz (or “Mommy Kate” as she was affectionately known) was heralded as the “Queen of Filipino Jazz,” and was revered as one of the greatest entertainers in the history of the Philippines.

De la Cruz’s singing career began when she was a young girl, where she was hired by local towns to perform at fiestas, cockfights, and boxing matches. In 1914, at the age of seven, she made her first appearance in the Philippine capital city of Manila, where she was hired by a movie theatre to sing between film showings, thus becoming one of the founders of the Filipino bodabil movement.

Bodabil — a Filipino form of the word vaudeville — refers to entertainment consisting of a medley of musical numbers, comedic and dramatic skits, and even magic tricks, usually staged at movie theatres. Originally performed by acts based outside the Philippines, vaudeville made its appearance in the Philippines during the American occupation as a means of entertaining American troops. As de la Cruz and Borromeo Lou and other various acts began performing, bodabil became a popular form of Filipino entertainment; it entered a boom during the Japanese occupation during World War II, when other forms of Western entertainment were outlawed.

De la Cruz quickly rose to the top of the bodabil circuit in Maila, and by 1925 she was the highest-paid entertainer in the Philippines. Originally known for her rendition of the “St. Louis Blues,” de la Cruz soon became known for her interpretation of the song “Balut.” With the decline of bodabil after World War II, de la Cruz began concentrating on concerts and touring in Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, Singapore, and Hawaii. She made her debut at the Forbidden City nightclub in San Francisco before starring in her own stage show in Las Vegas in 1961.

After retiring in San Francisco, de la Cruz made a return trip to the Philippines in 1989 to attend the debut of Katy!, a musical based on her life.  While in the Philippines, she performed some of her signature songs on television; one rendition of her signature tune, “Balut,” is included below. Soon afterwards, de la Cruz became ill and spent the rest of her life out of the public eye; she passed away on November 10, 2004, at the age of 97.

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          February 10, 2018