If Christmas is about love, then Jose Mari Chan is the best man to tell us what love is all about. Known for his Christmas songs that have enthralled and touched generations of Filipinos, including the best-selling “Christmas in our Hearts,” Jose Mari traces his love for music to as far back as he was only five years old, when he would sing along with whatever was playing on the radio.
Jose Mari, who recently guested in Spotlight, the lifestyle online show of the Daily Tribune hosted by Dinah Sabal Ventura and Jojo G. Silvestre, shared with the audience his recollection of Christmases past and his thoughts on love — two topics that, by fate, are intertwined in his life, because “it was during the Christmas season that I met my wife-to-be.”
‘Little Christmas tree’
But of an earlier time, he recalls a Christmas midnight when “my parents went to hear Mass. I was left alone in our home and since there was no more radio because it was 11 o’clock, I went to the piano and began to tinker ‘Silent Night.’”
Another Christmas Eve, when he was either seven or eight years old, “and my parents again went to midnight Mass. I turned on the radio phono and I played a record by Nat King Cole. I remember listening to that song and somehow it became a permanent part of my Christmas memories. That song is called ‘Little Christmas Tree.’ It’s so much part of my Christmas past that when I came out with my album, ‘Christmas in Our Hearts,’ I had to include a part of the melody of that song.”
The gifted child, as early as he was five or six years old, felt connected to music. “In Iloilo, during that time, we didn’t have television yet. So, listening to the radio, I found myself singing along to the songs and then to the movies that I watched, like Jim Kelly singing ‘I’m singing in the rain,’” he recounts.
He credits his musicality to his maternal grandmother, “who hailed from Cebu and, as you all know, Cebu is one rich source of music, the balitaw. So my lola would be singing very often. She would sing me to sleep and I was exposed to the beautiful Cebuano balitaw. So that’s where it all began.”
Disc jockey at 13
At age nine, he sang on radio, “which made my parents very proud.” He would begin his celebrity life, although initially in the Western Visayas, when he was 13 years old when “I became a radio disc jockey on Sundays on DUYHF, an AM station in Iloilo. I would turn on the station at 6 o’clock in the morning. I had a show called Junior Morning Chirper which was JMC, the initials of my name. And then I had another show called Dear JoMari, a request and dedication show. People would send their requests and I would play it on the air.
Every Sunday after, he hosted “Platters on Parade,” a countdown of the top hits, all the way to number one.”If you noticed, the Platters on Parade is POP, which, of course, refers to popular music,” says Jose Mari, who called it differently from similar programs that used the word ‘Hits” as far as Manila.
In college, he hosted Nine Teeners on ABS-CBN and which made him famous among the young. Already a student in Ateneo, he was often invited to other campuses to host events or perform in them.
Meeting the girl
One time, in December 1965, he was invited to be the master of ceremonies of a Christmas program at Saint Scholastica.
“There was a group that came to the show backstage to talk to me,” Jose Mari relates, “and her name is Margarita Ansaldo. Margarita was with her friends and she was president of the student council in Maryknoll at that time.
“They came to see me during the break and she said that she and her caroling group were going to have a party at her home in San Juan, Rizal. She wanted me to join them. But it happened that I was scheduled to fly to Iloilo for my Christmas vacation with my family.
“So, I had to tell Margarita, ‘I am taking a morning flight the next day. But okay, I appreciate that you came all the way to St. Scholastica to meet with me and invite me. Okay, I will go.’”
The day came, and he arrived at the Ansaldo residence, but there were no cars outside. The street was quiet and the place was dark. “I rang the doorbell and a teenaged girl opened the gate. I introduced myself and she introduced herself as the sister of Margarita. Her name was Mary Ann Ansaldo, and her sister Margarita had asked her to wait for me and converse with me while their group still had to sing carols in two more houses before they would return to the Ansaldo residence for the party.”
It took an hour before the carolers returned, by which time, the two had exchanged many stories and “I found myself attracted to her,” recounts Jose Mari. When Margarita told her sister that she could already return to her room, Jose Mari requested that she stay and join them in the party, and Mary Ann stayed, and the two ended up being together the whole night.
His best friend and partner
The next day, already late for his flight to Iloilo, he went to his friend Jose Nable, who lived next door, and told him, “You know, John, last night, I met the girl I am going to marry.”
That was December of 1965. Five years later, 1970, he and Mary Ann were wed. This year, they are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
That theirs is a strong marriage, he would not easily credit to himself. Whenever asked if he is a good husband, he answers consistently, “You have to ask Mary Ann that question.”
What he is sure of is “Mary Ann is my best friend, my best partner, my wife, my girlfriend, my woman, my friend. To quote my song, “My Girl, My Woman, My Friend.” We share the same interests, we do the same things and she is a wonderful person. Very kind, very understanding and she has never said anything bad about another person. She has never criticized anyone. I am very blessed and lucky.
“And you know what else? My name is Jose Maria Chan named after St. Joseph and the mother Mary. And her name is Mary Ann and Anne is the name of the mother of Blessed Mary. So Joseph and Mary are ever present in our lives.”