Her parents—a Visayan father and a Tagalog mother—passed away when she was barely two years old. She was born on January 11, 1902 and was christened Honarata dela Rama. But throughout her life, she carried the nickname Atang. Her eldest sister Pastora was then married to Leon Ignacio, a zarzuela music composer, who eventually convinced Atang to sing Kundiman songs.
To avoid rehearsing zarzuela arias and taking up violin, as well as piano, lessons at the Ignacio, she instead played the truant. But Atang still finished B.S in Pharmacy at Centro Escolar University (CEU) and being an Escolarian, she was fluent in Spanish. She was good in crocheting which she did even during intermissions before curtain calls in musical shows she appeared in.
At an early age, she was already tackling child parts in zarzuelas, being a member of gifted stage performers under 12 years old belonging to the Orestes Marcaidas Lilliputian Company.
Atang eventually became the lead actress in such big operettas like La Vida Alegre, Conde de Luxenburgo, La Mascota, Suenade de Unbats and other plays such as Dalagang Bukid in Tagalog.
She appeared in Dalagang Bukid at the age of 15 years old. It was written by Hermogenes Ilagan especially for her with music composed by her brother-in-law Leon Ignacio.
Thus Atang was regarded as the zarzuela superstar during the Golden Age of the Tagalog zarzuela.
The zarzuela was then adapted in 1917 into a silent movie by Jose Nepomuceno, the Father of Filipino Movies. The history of Philippine Cinema acknowledged Dalagang Bukid as the first Filipino film. Atang co-starred with Marcelino Ilagan, who was also her leading man in La Venganza de Don Silvestre.
Atang’s other films included: Dugong Silangan (1930), Ang Landas ng Kayamanan (1934) with co-stars Vicente Ocampo and Hanasan and Ay, Ay Kalisud (1938) with newcomer songbird Fely Vallejo.
In the 1939 film Mahiwagang Binibini, Atang appeared with Precioso Palmacas as her leading man and Carmen Rosales was introduced here. Atang sang kundiman songs like Aping- Api, Kalikasan and Tayo’y Magsayaw.
But Atang never left the stage, apparently her first love. She appeared in productions such as Sundalong Mantika, Paglipas ng Dilim, Alamat ng Nayon, Ang Mestiza, Anak ng Dagat, Arorong Sinto, Ang Kiri and Sa Bunganga ng Pating.
She also appeared on stage at the Zorilla, Savoy Lux, Place Empire, Sirena and the Manila Grand Opera House. Her contemporaries included Aurelia Hanasan Hallado Mentoy and Diana Toy-toy Moncado.
Atang became an international star, appearing in performances in Tokyo, Shanghai, Hongkong, New York and San Francisco during the period 1922 up to 1940.
She shuttled back and forth between stage and films. Her movies projects included Rigiding (with Efren Reyes), Mga Batong Buhay (with lead Leopoldo Salcedo and Paraluman) ang Siga-Siga. She appeared as Teodora Alonzo in Ang Buhay at Pag-ibig ni Dr. Jose Rizal where the national hero was portrayed by Eddie del Mar.
Atang invested in real estate and jewelry when she was active as an artist. This kept her in good stead during the War and during the era of reconstruction.
She later married Amado V. Hernandez, a poet novelist and newspaper columnist who was charged of rebellion in the 50’s. Her nationalist husband, who was eventuallt released from prison, died in 1970.
In 1987, Atang was declared a National Artist (an award also coferred on her husband) for her singing career and her parallel career in theater and film, which transcended Philippine boundaries.
On July 11, 1991, Atang dela Rama died at the age of 89.
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