Pilita, a musical icon to Filipinos and Australians

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Pilita Corrales in 1959
Pilita Corrales in 1959

A musical icon to Filipinos worldwide, as well as Australians in times past, Pilita Corrales is a star like no other. Television viewers in Melbourne between 1959 and 1961 would remember Pilita as one of the biggest TV stars of their time. This is the story of a star who became Asia’s Queen of Song, as fans look forward to her upcoming show in Melbourne, in the city where it all began 60 years ago.

Pilita’s career in the world of music began in 1959. The journey to Melbourne, however, was not as smooth sailing as many would expect.

Pilita left the Philippines in her late teens to try her luck as a backup circus performer for John Calvert, a known American actor-magician at the time. They set sail from Manila to Singapore, then on to Darwin on the Seafox, a famous yacht that met its fate in the remote shores of the Northern Territory.

Despite the distress calls made, it was a week before the passengers and crew, including a chimpanzee, made it to shore safely. This event made headlines throughout the world due to the four-day search, and the Australian Navy who helped them back to shore with their damaged leaky vessel.

After two weeks, Pilita was performing as John Calvert’s assistant on live TV in Melbourne. Melbourne was the center of entertainment in Australia at the time, and Pilita’s appeal was quickly discovered by the weekly entertainment show, ‘In Melbourne Tonight’, hosted by Graham Kennedy on GMT-9 (aka Channel 9 or Nine Network).

No longer was Pilita known the magician’s assistant, as she began to be recognised as a singer entertainer in her own right. She resided in St Kilda Road in Melbourne with Calvert, who instantly became her mentor/manager.

After proving very popular with her weekly TV performances, Channel 9 organised her first single release, under the direction of their musical director Arthur Young. The single titled ‘Speak Low / Come Closer To Me’ released on November 2, 1959, became a huge hit.

Pilita Corrales (right) while promoting her first single release Speak Low/Come Closer To Me in Australia in 1959.

The Age at the time highlighted Pilita as a singer with “individuality and charm” and a “warm personality, together with engaging vitality”.  Her first album ‘Pilita Tells The Story Of Love’ was released within weeks of her single, and according to record previews in The Age was “far superior to many released overseas”. She was referred to in The Age as the biggest single act to hit Melbourne TV since Graham Kennedy and viewed as “the most pleasant female singer ever to appear live on TV in Melbourne”.

Pilita was soon on TV screens of every home in Melbourne, becoming a TV star, referred to as “glamorous”, “charming” “sultry”, and “telegenic”. Her popularity on Australian TV was unmatched as according to articles in The Age, TV stations were eager to star Pilita, as the “ultra photogenic” entertainer was considered as a “sure-fire” attraction. 

Pilita also performed at nightclubs and cabarets around Melbourne, as well as various shows in Ballarat, Bendigo, and Geelong. Pilita performed at Port Fairy near Warnambool to ring in the new year for 1960.

In 1960, Pilita also starred on the HSV-7 (Seven Network or Channel 7) Saturday night show “Club Seven” for a few months. She also travelled down to Hobart as part of a month-long stage show at the Theatre Royal, which caused various controversies with her existing contract with HSV-7 (Seven Network). For a period of time, while contracted to Channel 7, Pilita would also fly to Sydney each Friday to star in TCN-9’s (Channel 9 Sydney) Late Show.

Pilita’s mother came to Australia to stay with her. In one of Pilita’s recent visits to Melbourne during the winter in 2015, Pilita commented on the cold weather, and how her mother could also not stand the cold weather of Melbourne in 1960. In 1961, Pilita had a daily appearance at the Tivoli Theatre on Bourke Street, (now Tivoli Arcade), as part of the Hollywood Bandbox shows.

Calvert continued to be Pilita’s manager, however, she began to miss the Philippines after living in Melbourne for a few years. One could imagine the absence of a Filipino community in Melbourne at the time. Her career, however, picked up well in the Philippines throughout the remainder of the ’60s and ’70s, where she starred on TV and in various films, maintained her own popular TV show, continued to join special events, and perform at Ceasers Palace In Las Vegas.

In 1970, Pilita referred to as the “exotic Filipino bombshell” returned to Melbourne, and was a regular appearance at the Chevron Celebrity Room at the former Chevron Hotel on St Kilda Road. Pilita also re-appeared on TV for some shows on In Melbourne Tonight. 

In 1979, Pilita had a set of shows with her then partner and manager, Amado Del Paraguay at the Swagman, which was a popular music venue located on Burwood Highway in Ferntree Gully. Together, in 1981, they also had a one-night show at the Sydney Opera House. Pilita has since performed various concerts throughout Australia, including Adelaide, Perth and regular visits to Perth and Melbourne.

No other Filipino in history has come to Australia to have a successful career in showbiz.  Pilita’s admirable career of music, television, and acting is monumental. After producing over 130 albums, in English, Spanish, Filipino and Visayan, she continues to sell out shows at a series of concerts in the United States and Canada and performs as a guest at various special events around the Philippines. Her witty style of engagement with the audience, alluring style of performance, with her back bending trademark pose will continue to captivate audiences wherever she goes.

In Pilita’s upcoming shows in Sydney and Melbourne, fans will without a doubt be delighted to a repertoire of timeless classics such as ‘Dahil Sa ‘yo’, ‘A Million Thanks To You’, and ‘Pipit’. Asia’s Queen of Songs, Pilita Corrales returns to Melbourne, the city which was once her home, to perform live for her fans on October 19. 

Pilita Corrales in concert in Melbourne in 2015 | Video: Jason Cordi | YouTube
Pilita Corrales performs one of the most famous and sentimental Visayan songs, Matud Nila at the Village Green Hotel, Melbourne on 15 August 2015. | Video: Jason Cordi | Youtube
Pilita Street in Forest Hill, Victoria

Did you know?

  • The first-ever record produced in Australia was in November 1959, under Astor Records in Melbourne. This was Pilita’s “Speak Low” / “Come Closer to Me”, which subsequently topped the charts, beating other releases from the US and UK. Pilita was featured on the ABC in Australia in a 2003 documentary called ‘Love Is In The Air’, where she was celebrated as being the first female artist to top the charts with a local release in Australia.
  • Pilita has a street named after her in Melbourne! Pilita Street can be found at the suburb of Forest Hill along Springvale Road in Melbourne. In 2015 during one of Pilita’s previous visits to Melbourne, she visited the street with her assistant and husband, Carlos.
  • Pilita was crowned the title of Asia’s Queen of Song in 1972 after winning at the first Tokyo Music Festival. Pilita won the best singer award, besting Australian Olivia Newton-John. The song she performed was ‘My Daughter’ composed by George Canseco.
  • The long-running television show, ‘Your Evening With Pilita’ was aired on ABS-CBN from 1964 to 1972. Although the show was axed due to the implementation of Martial Law, she continued to perform at exclusive presidential functions on a regular basis and was a regular performing guest for Imelda Marcos and visitors at the Presidential Palace.

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