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Jose Mari Chan: Our little drummer boy

A man for others, like his father, is how I know Joe Mari. He’s been a dear friend for the last 50 years since his wife Mary Ann and I were schoolmates in Maryknoll.



Following the example of his father Antonio, Jose Mari Chan or Joe Mari has marched to his own drum beat and rhythm.

A man for others, like his exemplary father, is how I knew Joe Mari. He’s been a dear friend for the last 50 years since his wife Mary Ann and I were schoolmates at Maryknoll.

After college, I was fortunate to be one of 35 Filipino women who were trained for six months in Nippongo, and to review Philippine history, arts and culture and tourism to assist at the Philippine Pavilion in Osaka, Japan. I was appointed protocol director. Our pavilion was one of the most popular and was awarded one of 10 best designed pavilions by National Artist Leandro Locsin.

As fate would have it, MaryAnn and Joe Mari had just gotten married and were doing missionary work with the Assumption nuns. They visited the Expo, and I gave them VIP treatment that they have not forgotten to this day.

When I interviewed Joe Mari for one of my coffee-table books to be released soon, he told me that his father was the greatest influence in his life.

HIS father Antonio was the greatest influence in Joe Mari Chan’s life.

When Joe Mari wanted to do further studies abroad, his father said, “Son, I will teach you everything you need to know about our business. You need not study abroad.”

Antonio was a poor immigrant from the tiny village of Fujian province in China. Antonio’s father died when he was 10 years old. So at 14, he left his widowed mother and siblings for the Visayas seeking a better life. When World War II broke out in 1941, Antonio was barely 21. He and Joe Mari’s mother married in 1944. Following the country’s liberation, his young, determined father started sugar trading at the right time in the right place.

Joe Mari said he will never be able to duplicate his father’s achievements despite whatever educational edge he has. He said, “Everything that I am, all that I have, I owe everything to Papa.”

The secret to Joe Mari’s success is minding his own business. He has always set his priorities right: God, family, business, music. Fortunately, singing engagements are usually in the evenings, so when there are conflicts , he delegates the business to his children, and they keep him informed.

JOE Mari has always been lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Joe Mari shared a milestone experience when he performed at Carnegie Hall and got a standing ovation. His father, he found out later, was among the audience.

Twenty years prior, his parents watched Joe Mari perform at the Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo. At the World Popular Song Festival, he represented the Philippines, competing against 40 other countries.

As a singer-songwriter, Joe Mari has always been lucky to be in the right place at the right time. He tries to stay current as there are many young composers waiting in the wings. In 1973, he composed the song, “Can We Stop and Talk Awhile,” and it became a major hit. Songwriters called it “a breath of fresh air.”

In 1974, he was chosen as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines.

JOEMARI was awarded the Icon of Original Pilipino Music at the 3rd PMPC Star Awards for Music. / PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF FB.COM/JOSE MARI CHAN

Yes, the little drummer boy has grown to be a successful businessman and musician. He has learned his life’s lessons well from his father Antonio and he shares his blessings with marginalized members in the music industry.