Levi Celerio

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Levi Celerio (April 30, 1910 – April 2, 2002) was a Filipino composer and lyricist who is credited with writing over 4,000 songs. Celerio was recognized as a National Artist of the Philippines for Music and Literature in 1997.

He is also known for using the leaf as a musical instrument which led to being recognized as the "only man who could play music using a leaf" by the Guinness Book of Records. This led to him making guest appearance in television shows recorded outside the Philippines.

Aside from being a musician, Celerio was also a poet and a film actor who appeared in various Philippine films of the 1950s and 1960s.

Early life and education

Levi Celerio was born on April 30, 1910, in Tondo, Manila to Cornelio Cruz and Juliana Celerio and was born to a poor family. Celerio's affinity for music was a result of influence from his mother who is a harpist and a member of a church choir.[1] He was estranged from his father who is involved in the real estate and jewelry business. His father was never married to his mother.[2]

His mother encouraged him to be involved in music as a distraction from the squalid conditions of their neighborhood. Despite of this, Celerio became a close acquaintance of gang leader Asiong Salonga. At his mother's encouragement Celerio started playing the violin at age 11 taking lessons from a member of the Philippine Constabulary Band. Celerio later performed with the band as its member while simultaneously attending Torres High School.[1] It was during his high school years that Celerio learned about his father.

He also attended the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music to study violin for two semesters.[1] Then director Alexander Lippay recommended him for a scholarship at the Academy of Music in Manila.[3] He received scholarship and became the youngest member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra.[4]


Orchestral and poetry career

Levi Celerio was a member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra but his stint with the musical troupe ended when he fell off a tree and broke his wrist. He temporarily worked as a comic illustrator and[1] later decided to shift to songwriting.[5]

Prior to turning to songwriting, Celerio got involved in poetry and was a humorist in the orchestra of Premiere Productions. He held high regard to poet, Jose Corazon de Jesus. However his poems failed to gain positive reception and his works were regarded as "lacking in style". Later in his career, he had Filipino Palindromes and Take It From Levi, a collection of love poems he wrote published.[1]


Levi Celerio is credited for writing more than 4,000 songs, many of which are dedicated to his wife and children.[6] He wrote Filipino folk, Christmas, and love songs and some of his songs were used in feature films.[5]

Among Original Pilipino Music (OPM) songs he composed are "Ikaw", "Kahit Konting Pagtingin", "Saan Ka Man Naroroon?(1968)". He wrote the lyrics of the Filipino lullaby "Sa Ugoy ng Duyan". He also composed folk songs including "Ako ay May Singsing", "Ang Pipit", "Dungawin Mo Hirang", "Itik-Itik", "Pitong Gatang", and "Waray-Waray"[6] "Sa Ugoy ng Duyan", in particular was a collaboration with Lucio San Pedro, a fellow National Artist.[3]

"Ang Pasko ay Sumapit", officially titled "Maligayang Pasko at Masaganang Bagong Taon" is an example of a well-known Christmas song by Celerio,[3] which was the Tagalog version from the original Cebuano song, Kasadya Ning Taknaa, by Vicente Rubi and Mariano Vestil.[7] He also wrote the Christmas carols "Pasko Na Naman" and "Noche Buena" with composer Felipe Padilla de León in 1965.

Awards and recognition

National Artist for Music and Literature

On October 9, 1997, pursuant to Proclamation No. 1114, President Fidel V. Ramos proclaimed him a National Artist for Music and Literature.[8] His citation read that his music "was a perfect embodiment of the heartfelt sentiments and valued traditions of the Filipino".[5]

Guinness recognition

Celerio was known for using the leaf as a musical instrument which resulted the Guinness Book of World Records to recognize him as "the only man who could play music with a leaf". According to his daughter, he first learned to play the leaf as an instrument during the World War II. According to the account, he had to prove himself as a musician when he had an encounter with Japanese soldiers. He managed to pick a young leaf and play them a song and he was left unscathed.[6]

Other honors and awards

The University of the Philippines conferred him an honorary doctorate degree in Humanities in 1991. The Film Academy of the Philippines gave Celerio the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. He is also the recipient of the CCP Gawad Para Sa Sining in 1991, and the Gawad Urian Award in 1993.[1]

Television appearances

In the 1950s and the 1960s, Celerio was involved in various Philippine film as a character actor. He portrayed a variety of roles which ranged from a beggar, a rapist, a liquor thief and pickpocket, and a palm-reader.[2] His Guinness recognition led to his guest appearance in The Ed Sullivan Show[3] He also guested in The Merv Griffin Show[9] and That's Incredible! (1970s[2])

Later years

In his old age, Levi occasionally appeared in public, usually at a concert at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.[10] He also played violin at the Camelot Hotel bar and other small venues.[1]

Death and legacy

Levi Celerio's grave at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig

Celerio died in the afternoon of April 2, 2002 at the Delgado Clinic in Kamuning, Quezon City due to multiple organ dysfunction. He also had a prior episode of stroke.[3] He was buried with full military honors at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.[10]

On his 108th Birth Anniversary on April 30, 2018, Google Philippines featured Celerio in a Google Doodle.[4][6]

Personal life

Levi Celerio was married to Lina Celerio[6] and has 4 children. He had four failed relationships.[1] Singer-comedian Veronica Palileo is a half-sister of his and director-actor Tony Cruz was a half-brother. He also played the piano as a past time but not in a professional capacity.[2]


Year Title Credited as Role Note(s) .
Composer Actor
1959 Pitong Gatang No Yes
1960 Bigay Hilig Yes Yes
1962 Markang Rehas No Yes
1963 Ang Babaeng Isputnik No Yes
Istambay Yes No
Miting de Avance No Yes
1966 Franco Maderro Yes No
Mr. Humble Boy (Ang Dating Kampeon) Yes No
1968 The Son of Vera Cruz Yes Yes
1973 Hanggang sa Kabila ng Daigdig No Yes
1977 Wanakosey No Yes
1992 Mahirap Maging Pogi No Yes A "lolo"


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 "The Genius of Composer Levi Celerio", PEP.ph, Philippine Entertainment Portal, Inc., 13 December 2007. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Natatanging Gawad Urian kay Levi Celerio.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "Another national artist, Levi Celerio, passes away", Philippine Star, 3 April 2002. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Google celebrates Levi Celerio's 108th birth anniversary with a doodle", GMA News, 30 April 2018. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "L. Celerio, 91; Filipino Composer, Lyricist", Los Angeles Times, 4 April 2002. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "Google, daughter pay tribute to National Artist Levi Celerio", Philippine Daily Inquirer, 30 April 2018. 
  7. What's Happening Archive | Philippine Postal Corporation.
  8. National Commission for Culture and the Arts. (n.d.). National Artists of the Philippines. Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
  9. Levi Celerio. IMDb
  10. 10.0 10.1 Filipino of the Century Archived 2016-06-06 at the Wayback Machine Czarina love Karl Template:Unreliable source?

External links

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