How Lea Salonga and Cecile Licad’s mothers raised them

Published May 9, 2021, 2:00 PM

by Sol Vanzi

Two moms, two music icons


Two women behind international music divas deserve our praise and gratitude for their roles in bringing honor to our country: Ligaya Salonga and Rosario Licad, mothers of Lea Salonga and Cecile Licad. They sacrificed and gave their all in order for their daughters to fulfill their dreams.

Lea always thanks her mother for being behind her success in the entertainment business.

“It’s because of her unwavering belief in what I can do and what my brother (Gerard Salonga) can do, I don’t think that we would be the kind of artists that we are,” the multi-awarded singer/actress told reporters before a concert a few years ago. “As my brother would kid around, ‘You gotta thank mom for her incessant nagging.’ It’s the nonstop reminders to do things and you just know that she’s right. And it’s the diligence and the discipline that comes from a place of love.”

But Mommy Ligaya remains humble, saying credit must go to her daughter. “It’s her talent that brought her up there with just a little help from me. And the three of us (including Gerard) all love each other.”

The award-winning theater star suggests that Mommy Ligaya could put up a school for stage mothers. Ligaya, however, insists that she’s no stage mother to Lea, “If you’re a stage mom, (Lea) will be overworked. I don’t accept a lot so that she’ll have time for her family and for herself.”

Ligaya is a meticulous manager, going over contracts and looking after every little detail, including gowns. For her role in Miss Saigon, Lea was originally required to wear a bikini. Ligaya objected. The costume was redesigned. “All you need from her is her face and her voice. You’re not supposed to display her body. Parents have to sacrifice for them. From the time you wake up in the morning, you take care of them until they sleep at night.”

Lea praised her mother in a recent post on Instagram: “Here’s to the indefatigable and indomitable woman I am proud to call my mother. She’s 81 years young, still fiercely taking care of those she loves. She has more energy than most folks half her age and she is not slowing down. No, it is not her birthday (that’s not until August), but it’s never a bad idea to pay tribute to someone like her. Love you, Mom!”

Mrs. Rosario Licad sums up the role she plays in Cecile’s musical life. “My husband and I organized Cecile’s life. Her routine was strictly divided into school time, practice time, and piano lesson time. Of course, she had play time, but only after school and practice hours.”

When Cecile entered Curtis Institute in Philadelphia at age 11, Mrs. Licad’s duties magnified. She was mother, cook, household help, chaperone, and confidante.

“Cecile had a stubborn streak as a teen, which merely reflected a conscious desire to be on her own. She hated to be told over and over what to do. She is not the type to harbor ill feelings, though, because once her temperamental fire burns out, she is back to her normal self as though nothing had happened,” Mrs. Licad confided in an interview.

“For my daughter, hard work comes naturally. She knows the importance of discipline, and long practice hours are second nature to her. She is a perfectionist but doesn’t gloat or brag about it,” she said. Named after St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, the pianist when still inside the womb was already exposed to classical music.

Mrs. Licad recalled in the months before her birth, her husband, Dr. Jesus V. Licad, used to play classical music in the house.

THE GIFT OF FAMILY Cecile Licad with mother Rosario and son Otavio

“I am a pianist myself, and she is a grandniece of the composer Francisco Buencamino. We somehow were always aware that Cecile and music were something special. At age three and a half, she could already read notes, even before she learned the alphabet.”

But at some point in her young life, the then younger Licad realized that regular practice involved a lot of work and deep concentration. And that, for a normal growing child, was not much fun anymore. “When she would waver, her Papa would say, ‘If your piano teacher scolds you once, I’ll scold you twice.’ Then I would nag her and say, ‘You forced me to teach you piano, remember? Now that we’ve started this, I want you to become a better pianist than I am,” continued Mrs. Licad.

Cecile describes her mother’s evolution. “She was predictably my mother when she insisted I had to practice first before playtime. When she thought I wasn’t paying attention to my teacher, I found myself being pinched and given those warning eyes,” she intimates. “But into my early teens to young adulthood, my mother played other roles and her influences indeed was all over my young life.

Midway into my teens, she became not just my mother. She evolved into my friend, my confidante, my secretary, my cook, my messenger (she took care of house bills), my manager (she decides what engagements I can accept outside the school), and my PR (she made sure my latest little achievements are known to the media).”

Mrs. Licad considers her daughter a heavenly gift. “For me, Cecile is the greatest blessing I received from God. Once you are given a gifted child, you have the obligation to nurture that talent in the very best way you can,” she says. “There is no perfect formula. Just remember patience, understanding, discipline, concentration, focus, a fighting spirit when things go wrong and, with it, lots of humility.”

Cecile sums up her mom’s dedication and sacrifices. “I suppose a large part of her life went to making sure I become the artist I am now,” she says.