Jazz queen Annie Brazil passes away

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Mar 06 2019 08:21 AM

MANILA - Jazz queen Annie Brazil passed away on Tuesday, her son Richard Merk confirmed. She was 85.

She died at 4:26 p.m. at St. Luke's Medical Center in Quezon City where she was confined since last week due to pneumonia, Merk said.

Her wake is at Loyola Guadalupe starting at 12 noon Wednesday. 

She will be cremated and the urn will be brought to New Jersey, where she had been based for the last two decades with daughter Rachel Anne Wolfe.

When she was living, Brazil acknowledged that music was her “life and passion.” She was happiest whenever she was onstage. She continued to perform for a long time, until her final years. 

“I never count the years when I perform,” Brazil said. “That way, I don’t feel old.”

In 2017, Brazil was vacationing in Manila when she suffered a stroke. She was advised not to make the long-haul flight back to the US East Coast. Since 1990, she had been based in New Jersey, where her daughter, Rachel Anne Wolfe Spitaletta, also stayed with the latter’s family.

Justiniana Bulawin, Brazil’s real name, first fell in love with James Bernard Merk, an American who worked as a base announcer and disc jockey in Okinawa, Japan. Every morning, the elder Merk dedicated love songs on the radio to Brazil, who was then working as a singer in a nightclub in Okinawa.

Their relationship bore a son, Richard James Merk, who was born in Okinawa. However, the elder Merk died early because of brain tumor at the age of only 31. His tomb is in Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1959, Brazil married impresario David Wolfe, whom she met in Bangkok, Thailand. Wolfe, who was the father of Rachel Anne, brought so many international jazz artists to Thailand, among them were Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Billy Eckstine, Vic Damone, Ink Spots. The Treniers,The Platters. Gary Lewis and The Playboys.

Brazil started singing when she was only six. Her talent brought her to other countries – US, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan.

Since she learned to take on the microphone and carry a tune, which she did for more than seventy years, Brazil never gave up on singing. She apparently got a different kind of high singing in front of an audience and seeing them appreciate her performance.

She felt re-energized seeing the audience applaud after her every number.

"When the audience supports you, you feel good when you’re onstage,” she said. "That makes the artist perform continuously, because the audience appreciates her performance.”

Known as the Grand Lady of Jazz, Brazil was lured to the genre by listening to such male singers as Frank Sinatra, Van Monroe, Perry Como and Nat King Cole, whom she also admired.

Eventually, Brazil developed her own style of singing high-brow jazz tunes. Not a few who hear her through the years compared her to Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughn.

Brazil’s love for music was undoubtedly passed on to her children – jazz prince Richard Merk and Rachel Anne Wolfe Spitaletta – who are both renowned artists in their own right.

Brazil, however, insisted that she never taught her children how to sing. Instead, she taught them how to carry a tune.

“I told them they have to sing a song from the heart and sing it with their own style,” she shared. “To sing a song with true feelings, you must know what life is all about.”

While her contemporaries had long settled for retirement, Brazil continued to perform whenever and wherever she could. She always returned to Manila even if she had been based in New Jersey for a long time, because this is “home.”

Even while she was in the US, Brazil performed for 12 years at Cucina Stagionale, a jazz bar in the Greeenwich Village.

Brazil’s biggest milestone was when she became a Lifetime Achievement Awardee by the Filipino-American Jazz Society in 2003.

“Being recognized by your fellow artists with true passion for their craft is absolutely a beautiful and wonderful blessing,” she said.
In 1986, a newborn baby boy appeared on Brazil’s doorstep and she adopted him legally. Ralph Francis Wolfe now works as a chef, preparing food in the house.