On May 1, 1912, Felipe Padilla de Leon was born in Peñaranda, Nueva Ecija, Philippines. Juan de Leon, his father, died when he was three years old. Though he was from a poor family, his humble origins did not stop him to pursue his artistic vision with great determination and confidence.
He studied in Manila, Philippines and United States of America. He practiced his teachings in different school in the capital city and became the conductor of Banda Malaya, a famous band in Taytay, Rizal, Philippines. He was married to Illuminada Bonus Mendoza and the father of six children that are equally gifted in music; Felipe Mendoza de Leon. Bayani de Leon, Tagumpay de Leon, Luningning de Leon-Carbonell, Magdangal de Leon and Marilag de Leon-Mendoza.
He was a composer, conductor and scholar. He was famous for translating the lyrics of the Philippine National Anthem from the original Spanish to Tagalog. His orchestral music includes the Mariang Makiling Overture (1939), Roca Encantada (1950), Maynila Overture (1976), Orchesterstuk (1981). He also made some choral music like Payapang Daigdig (he wrote this the morning after he woke up to the destruction of the city of Manila during World War II), Ako'y Pilipino, Lupang Tinubuan, Ama Namin and classic songs like Bulaklak, Alitaptap, Mutya ng Lahi and the kundiman, Sarong Banggi.
Aside from being a composer, he gave the country the first full-length Filipino opera, Noli Me Tangere in 1957 and subsequently El Filibusterismo in 1970. He is remembered as one of the prime advocate of nationalism and even the Martial Law babies can recall singing his patriotic song, "Bagong Lipunan".
He took Filipino music by heart and gave all his effort in keeping the music traditions alive. He united all the bands in the Philippines when he became the founding president of Pambansang Samahan ng mga Banda sa Pilipinas (PASAMBAP). He also established the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Inc. (FILSCAP). On December 8, 1997, President Fidel V. Ramos granted him the highest honor a Filipino artist can receive, the National Artist Award for music.
He was well recognized and continues to receive tributes. Aside from the National Artist Award, he had been the recipient of countless awards and distinctions including the Republic Cultural Heritage Award, Doctor of Humanities from the University of the Philippines (UP), Rizal Pro-Patria Award, Presidential Award of Merit, Patnubay ng Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila, Rizal Centennial Award, Filipino Musician of the Year Award from the U.P. Conservatory of Music and Parangal from the Writer's Union of the Philippines, among others. In recognition to his achievements and numerous contributions, Felipe Padilla de Leon High School in Nueva Ecija was named after him.
Maestro de Leon is still and will always be consider as the most prolific composer in the Philippines, he effectively expressed the nation's ideals and historical struggles through his work of arts. Indeed, his legacy of preserving the music tradition and his artistic tributes to promote nationalism are one of the highlights of the Philippine music history.