Lillian de los Reyes has been one of the most enduring icons in the Filipino-Australian entertainment scene, sizzling in shows everywhere in Sydney since I first met her in the 1970s.
The Everywhere Star Performer
As a matter of fact,Lillian’s presence is felt everywhere in Australia. Aside from Sydney and environs, she has performed in all the major cities in states and territories in Australia. One of these major cities is Darwin in the Northern Territory where she has been travelling and performing for now a total of fifteen years. She is a regular performer in Club Darwin headed by a local Filipino-Aussie community leader Fele Mann, as well as in Darwin’s MGM Casino.
Miss Songbird, her email name, was also a resident singer in a world renowned resort in Hayman Islands. In the past, she has performed in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, New Zealand and in cruises.
After seeing her performed in a number of community events, our group [North Shore Filipino-Australian Association] invited her to perform for one of our fundraising events in 1991. We were thrilled when she readily accepted our invitation. The audience was totally blown away by Lillian’s dynamic and impressive performance. She had the audience at the palm of her hands, especially during the parts that she interacted with them and even got some of them up with her on the stage. She generously donated her time and talent for a worthy cause.
Over the years, I have seen Lillian’s show – Manila By Night – in the club circuit. This show produced by Six Pak Productions has been running for more than twenty years. The support artists came and went, some still are with the show, but Lillian, the show’s “constant part” still draws the loudest applause and often the longest standing ovations from the audience. I have also watched her perform in big and small community events. In all these instances, I have seen Lillian’s performance to be at same level of ‘give’ and enjoyment by her. It did not matter whether she was headlining the show or playing a “bit part”, as she did in the fiesta scene in ‘Her Son, Jose Rizal’ staged in Campbelltown. It also did not matter whether she got paid or not; the fervour and intensity of her performance was the same.
The Road from Childhood to Stardom
Lillian’s smile and happy disposition hide a great sadness and a tragic event in her younger years. She got misty eyed when I asked her about her childhood and family.
She was two when her father was kidnapped killed by rebels. Her mother single-handedly raised her and her brother Paul. Lillian was seven when her mother re-married and gave birth to twins – boy Victor and girl Victoria. After settling in Sydney, she brought her mother and siblings over. Her mother had dementia and passed away at age 82 in Sydney eight years ago.
The eldest of the four children, Lillian grew up and finished elementary in Polo [now Venezuela] in Bulacan. She had one year of high school at the University of the East [UE] High School in Caloocan and eventually completed her high school in Arellano High when the family moved to Manila. After high school, she started working as a model and attended Cora Doloroso Finishing School – then a top modelling school which counts the famous actress Hilda Coronel as one of its students.
With her good looks, Lillian was invited to join beauty pageants such as Miss Philippines and Queen of Heart, where she got to be one of the finalists.
Although she was not really keen in doing higher level studies as her heart was set on the performing arts, she enrolled in UE where she did two years of pre-nursing studies while doing modelling assignments. She wasn’t attracted to do nursing work and against relatives’ advice that a nursing degree would be the easiest way to work overseas, she transferred to Lyceum College to do Foreign Service
course, which only lasted one year.
She went back to UE, that time to take Bachelor in Business Administration. But the restless artist did not finish this course either when in 1971 she had her break to join a group “Pink Petals”, a band that performed Diana Ross songs and Motown type music in American bases in Korea and in a famous hotel in Hong Kong.
She went back to the Philippines in 1973 and left the band to work as a soloist. She also ventured in acting on television and in movies. Her movies included “Anak ng Tatlong Hari” with George Estregan as her lead man; “Gigi ang Munting Martir” with Snooky and Paquito Dizon, and a few others.
However, Lillian’s real passion is singing so she concentrated on polishing her craft. She had co-starred with international stars like Gerry and The Pacemakers, Lou Rowles, The Ink Spots, Del Shannon, and Al Martino; as well as Filipino entertainment stars such as Gigi Galan, Pilita Corrales, Jun Polistico, Victor Wood, Freddie Aguilar and the Hot Dogs, to name a few.
Change in Constellation
Already a rising star in her own right back home, Lillian took the opportunity in 1974 to work in clubs in New Zealand where she would eventually meet her husband-to-be, Michael McWilliams. They met while she was touring with her show; he was working in one of the hotels where she was staying. They got married in New Zealand in 1975 and had their daughter Tara.
At the recommendation of a top Australian entertainer, she and the family migrated to Australia. With the backing of this friend, Lillian did not have problem getting mainstream entertainment gigs. For many years she worked as the resident entertainer in a leading restaurant in Chinatown.
She regards her big break in Australian entertainment when she got involved in the television program “You’re A Star”, a contest for professional entertainers. She won the preliminary heat and got into the finals. It was then that the Filipino-Australian community “discovered” her. Once they confirmed, she was Filipino, they got behind her and she formed strong friendships from then, mentioning Rod Dingle as one of them.
Once she got introduced to the Filipino-Australian community, there was no looking back. In addition to the mainstream Australian audience, she has had the Filipino-Australian community following her ‘Manila By Night’ show everywhere. She gets invited to Filipino-Australian community events in various roles – star performer, member of panel of judges, emcee and whatever role is given to her.
She has also become a budding entrepreneur involved running her own business in the health and wellness industry. She is constantly booked to perform in private events. She has her own CD, the sales of it mostly going to charity.
In November 2011, Lillian was installed in “The Hall of Fame” and received an award given to outstanding Filipinos who have for many years contributed to the community in the name of art. It was presented at Burwood RSL by The Filipino Australian Artistic and Cultural Endeavour Society [FAACES].
In her show “Divas of Vegas and Friends”, also produced by Six Pak, Lillian gets to do Tina Turner, Shirley Bassey and Cher. She gets comments that she does them so well, that one could be forgiven to think that they are the ones who copy her. And that she has better pins than Tina Turner!
Guiding Philosophy in Life
“Life is good. To wake up in the morning and find myself still alive is a blessing in itself. Live the most of my life and try to always look at the good side”, she replied when asked what philosophy guides her in life. She does not dwell and moves on from the ‘down sides’.
Lillian has no regret over the marriage which ended in 1987. She considers her gift as being her daughter Tara who will be in her mid-thirties in December. She spoke proudly of Tara’s achievements as a writer, editor and producer who has been based in New York and working with big names. Tara produced two big shows in Australia – ‘Big Losers’ and ‘MasterChef’ and was asked to provide consultancy to produce in the Philippines the ‘Junior MasterChef’ show.
Asked whether she could consider marrying again in the future, Lillian said: “I love being single, having my freedom. I have a lot of friends who give me love and support. But then, I would not say “never again”. I am an independent woman. When not performing, I am immersed in my health and wellness business which provides me a source of livelihood.”
She is happiest when she is on stage, doing what she does best – entertaining – as she knows she makes many people happy and that gives her a lot of personal satisfaction too. From when she was a little girl, she dreamt of being a ‘star’ and she is grateful that she has been given the opportunity to live her dream.
Lillian does not hesitate to admit being sixty three years of age: “I don’t think of myself as an ‘ageing singer’. Age is only a number. As long as I enjoy doing it and people are still happy to watch me perform, there should be no problem. Of course, there will come a time when I will be hanging my dancing shoes.”
No doubt this star will keep shining and sharing her brilliance in many more years to come.