Elizabeth Ramsey, known for her combined singing and comedic chops, passed away in “her sleep” on Thursday. She was 83.
Her daughter Jaya, also a singer, confirmed her passing through her Facebook account.
“Mama Beth is now with our Lord . . . 83 years has been full. Love and laughter, she has given not just our family but [also]the whole nation. Thank you for your love and prayers and I rejoice because she passes in her sleep. In peace. In God’s loving arms. Bye Mama, until we meet again. I love you forever. Thank you Jesus,” her message posted on Facebook on Thursday said.
Ramsey is an iconic showbiz personality in the Philippines–with dark skin and curly hair–courtesy of her Filipino-Jamaican blood.
She was last seen on local television in May when she appeared as surprise guest at the first season of the local adaptation of Your Face Sounds Familiar in ABS-CBN.
In that episode, celebrity contestant Melai Canteveros impersonated the veteran singer-comedienne while the latter watched in the audience.
In August, however, Ramsey was brought to the Philippine Heart Center after she suffered a seizure when her glucose level shot up to 500. “Praise God for his mercy. Mama Beth Ramsey did not have a stroke. Instead a seizure due to diabetes/hyperglycemia,” Jaya explained.
Born in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, Ramsey’s parents were Arturo Ramsey, a Jamaican sailor, and Marcelina Indino, a Spanish-Filipino.
Ramsey has three children with her first husband–Isaac, Anna and Susan Johnson.
After her husband’s death, she met Ray Kagahastian, a Filipino, with whom she has a daughter, Maria Luisa “Jaya” Ramsey, before separating.
In an interview with dzMM’s Jobert Sucaldito and Ahwel Paz in March 2014, she said she was 16 years old when she started singing with a band to earn money for her sick mother.
She then went to Manila and took a job as a housemaid.
“That’s the only remedy para makarating ako dito. Hindi alam ng mother ko na nawala ako sa amin. Lagi akong nawawala eh. I’m an adventurer. Suwerte ako… pero hindi rin suwerte, kasi hindi ako nadidisgrasya pag lumalayas. Yung iba pag-uwi, may dalang bata.
Disgrasya dito, disgrasya doon. Dalawang bata, iba ang ama. Ako, pag-alis ko ganyan… pag-uwi ko, ganyan rin ako… walang tsismis, walang excitement [Being a housemaid was my ticket to Manila. My mother did not know that I had left home. I am always missing. I am an adventurer. I am lucky… but I am also not lucky, because nothing happens to me when I leave home. Others when they come home, they carry a child. Accident here, accident there. Two kids, different fathers. Me, when I leave home, I am like this… when I return, I am still like this… no gossip, no excitement],” she said, drawing laughter.
According to Ramsey, her father tried but failed to encourage to finish her studies. “Books, pencils and pens did not appeal to me. My attention was in Song Hits. For me, studying was a waste of time. I didn’t like it. My mind was running on song lyrics so that’s what I pursued,” she said in Filipino.
But when she went home to Negros, her father who got disappointed with what she did, took her to Cebu and made her marry an African-American man.
“I was 19. I thought it was just a joke then I gave birth to Isaac and Anna. But I still wanted to go on singing. I said to myself, ‘I’ll one day escape from this’ and then I took my children and went to Bacolod City [Negros Occidental] where I met rich people there while singing in gambling dens,” she said. “While I was already performing, I was still not content with what I was doing. I wanted to see my name Elizabeth Ramsey in the headlines.”
When she went back to Cebu to ask her husband for monetary support, she got pregnant with her third child.
Ramsey, however, pressed on to Manila where she gave birth. She then met a neighbor who had a “combo” (band).
“I taught them how to sing rock and roll and together we auditioned at Student Canteen,” she said. Ramsey eventually emerged as champion in the noontime show’s singing contest.
“That’s a dream that took me 10 years to achieve. Hindi ako bumitiw [I didn’t give up],” she said.
Her Student Canteen stint paved the way for her to perform in the now defunct Manila Grand Opera House.
“[Rene Nieves, brother of comedian Chiquito, brought me to Opera House, then Clover Theater, I was with Kate dela Cruz [hailed as the Queen of Filipino Jazz and Queen of Bodabil],” Ramsey said.
In the 1960s, her career went full throttle when she became a regular in stage shows at the now defunct Clover Theater and Manila Grand Opera House. During this phase, she was also dubbed the country’s “Queen of Rock and Roll.”
Since then, Filipinos have loved her unique and funny style in performing, which was thickly accented by her native Visayan tongue.
Besides her successful musical career, she has also acted alongside Filipino acting greats like the late Fernando Poe Jr.–most notable in the 1959 film Princesa Naranja–and Chiquito.
She also appeared in various TV commercials from the 1970s to the 1980s. Her latest commercial was for a vinegar brand with actor Derek Ramsay.