Music veteran Rufino Soliano dies at age 85

Rufino Soliano had a big impact on local television and radio from the 1960s to the early 1990s.
Rufino Soliano had a big impact on local television and radio from the 1960s to the early 1990s. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Music veteran Rufino Soliano loved music so much that he thought about his old orchestra up until his last days.

He died of heart failure at the age of 85 on Saturday (Apr 22) at 11.35pm in his Tampines home, surrounded by his family.

A musician, composer, arranger and conductor, he was best known as the retired head of the now-defunct SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation) Orchestra and had a big impact on local television and radio from the 1960s to the early 1990s.

He played an important part in the music heard on shows produced by the broadcasting company, now known as Mediacorp, and has performed with both local music stars like Kartina Dahari and Anita Sarawak as well as international music icons who performed here, including Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis Jr.

According to his daughter Kathleen Francisco, a 59-year-old housewife, Soliano had been bedridden for about a month. He had been battling several ailments including kidney cancer and dementia.

She tells The Straits Times: "The last time he spoke was a week before he passed on. He was hallucinating and he said, 'The singers are out of key.' He then said to my mother, 'I have to go very soon.'"

With his death, the Singapore music industry has lost a "dedicated and passionate composer, music arranger / musician", says Dr Edmund Lam, chief executive and director of the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass), which awarded Soliano an Artistic Excellence Award in 1998. "With the loss of such a passionate individual, I am saddened. But we take heart that his music will continue on in us, generations to come, as it surely will in heaven."

Jazz veteran and Cultural Medallion winner Jeremy Monteiro calls Soliano "one of Singapore's most important musicians".

"He was very well respected and loved by many musicians in Singapore. A consummate multi-disciplinary musician, he was an accomplished drummer, vibraphonist, percussionist, pianist, organist and also a wonderful composer and prolific arranger. He was always friendly and a true gentleman."

Soliano comes from a musical family and his father started giving him music lessons at the age of eight. By the time he was 13, he was already playing music professionally in Malay and Chinese orchestras here.

He joined Radio Singapore Orchestra as a percussionist in 1960 and rose through the ranks as the broadcaster became Radio And Television Singapore (RTS) and later, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.

He became band leader of the 36-strong RTS Orchestra in 1978 and retired in 1995, during which time the broadcaster had split into Television Corporation of Singapore, Radio Corporation of Singapore and Singapore Television Twelve.

In 2013, his 12 Latin-inspired original compositions were compiled, recorded and released in an album titled Endlessly.

He last performed in public at a tribute concert celebrating his life and music at the Drama Centre in Dec 2014, where he played the vibraphone.

According to Francisco, the last time her father played an instrument was in January last year(2016), when he picked up the bongos and gave lessons to her son, Jordan, who is now 16.

Soliano leaves behind his 81-year-old wife, Shirley, five children, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

His wake is currently held at the multi purpose hall at Blk 757, Pasir Ris St 71. A mass will then be held at Church Of Divine Mercy, also in Pasir Ris, on Wednesday (Apr 26) at 2pm and the body will be cremated on the same day at Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium at 4.20pm.

dinohadi@sph.com.sg