Remembering Willy Cruz

Songwriter Willy Cruz died in 2017 after a stroke, leaving behind a enduring legacy of beautiful Original Pilipino Music.

Songwriter Willy Cruz died in 2017 after a stroke, leaving behind a enduring legacy of beautiful Original Pilipino Music.

By Tricia J. Capistrano

He arrived late with a male friend. They were both wearing leather jackets.

My mom greeted them at the door. He kissed her on the cheek, complimented her new pixie cut, and then proceeded to kiss the other wives while putting his hand on the small of their backs.

As the ladies were served iced calamansi juice, he complimented them on their dresses. This was in the early ‘80s. Most of them were wearing long, colorful summer dresses.

He then introduced his friend.

Later, the two joined the other men. They were my dad’s classmates in high school, class of 1964 and then college, class 1968 at Ateneo. Later, many of them formed the choral group, The Ambivalent Crowd.

My sister’s Ninong, Tito Jun was there. I think he recounted a story about the man to his companion from their college days. They all broke out in hearty laughter.

“They came on motorcycles,” my yaya whispered while we watched the party from the top of the stairs.

I had met the other grown-ups before and played with their children during out-of-town trips and birthday parties but I had never met the man.

“Who was the man in the leather jacket?” I asked my mom the next morning.

“That was Willy,” she answered. “He’s your Papa’s classmate and a famous composer. He was late because he came from a meeting with Sharon.”

I was only 6 but I knew who Sharon was. She was the Philippines’ most famous singer.

***

I saw him later during my dad’s other reunions but I remember him most vividly at my parents’ 20th wedding anniversary. We had a big celebration at our home. I was 17.

Among his memorable movie soundtracks.

Among his memorable movie soundtracks.

At my parents’ request, he performed “Never Ever Say Goodbye” on the piano. The same piano where I had lessons.

As I sat on the chair right next to him, I remember thinking— he must have played this song a hundred times before, but why did the pain and love in his face seem sincere? Did he always bare his heart when he performed?

The guests gathered around him afterwards and told him which of his songs was their favorite– “Kahit Na,” “Sana’y Wala ng Wakas,” “Bituing Walang Ningning.”

“Never Ever Say Goodbye” is mine. I love how it celebrates the magic of being together every day.

Night after night we stay together
Sharing moments that spell forever
Day after day our love gets stronger
Growing every minute as we get closer

If we ever have to say goodbye
And go our own separate ways
I wouldn’t know how to get by on my own
After all the love and passion you have shown

Click here to listen to a rendition by Nonoy Zuñiga:

***

The last time I saw him was during my dad’s 60th birthday party in 2007. He must’ve been 60 then too. I was 33 then. My son and I flew in from New York. I moved to New York and got married in my 20s.

The party was at a fancy restaurant with a stage and a grand piano. My parents’ old gang was there. Some of their children I still keep in touch with today. He arrived late. He looked like he weighed 90 pounds.

After scarfing down his dinner, he happily played the piano for the guests. They sang his love songs. Celeste Legaspi was there. She sang beautifully.

***

Tito Willy–although I don’t remember ever calling him that, I was too intimidated to ever talk to him–died in 2017. When he died, I remembered his friend from a long time ago. I never saw him again. Willy Cruz was one of the Philippines most loved composers. We let him die alone.

***
Willy Cruz was born on January 30, 1947. He would have been 72 today.



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