Posts Tagged ‘singer’

Photo: Phuong Tâm.
‘I was lucky – I sang every night’: Phuong Tâm on the front cover of Đẹpmagazine, Saigon, 1965.

I first heard this story at Public Radio International’s the World, but decided to use the Guardian version here because it has more details. It tells what a Vietnamese American woman did after discovering that her mother was once a rock star.

Here’s Sheila Ngoc Pham with an interview at the Guardian.

“In early 1960s Saigon, Nguyễn Thi Tâm would appear on stage in the city’s vibrant phòng trà (tearooms) and nightclubs. She embodied quintessential young womanhood, with long, straight black hair and wearing a white áo dài, an elegant Vietnamese dress. But instead of traditional songs, she would belt out music that recalled American hot rods, hip-swinging dance crazes and even teenage abandon: using the stage name Phuong Tâm, she was one of Vietnam’s first rock’n’roll singers. ‘Back then, everyone was singing Vietnamese, some French, but no one else was singing American music,’ says Tâm, now 76. ‘Just me.’

“Lost for decades, 25 of the brilliantly crafted songs she recorded – all rich in verve and atmosphere – can now be found on Magical Nights, a landmark compilation that required an international collective effort to recover a lost era of early Vietnamese rock.

“Tâm and I speak in Vietnamese, logging on from our homes in two of the world’s largest Vietnamese-diaspora communities: she is in San José, California; I am in Sydney, Australia. Given that we are talking about events from more than half a century ago, I’m astonished by her vivid recall. ‘Of course, these are precious memories. I was lucky. I sang every night.’ …

“When she was 12, she started learning music from a mandolin-playing neighbor who suggested she use the more feminine-sounding Phuong Tâm as her stage name. In 1961, at the age of 16, she auditioned for the Biet Doan Van Nghe, the art and culture brigade of South Vietnam: the government scheme enlisted performing artists to be part of the war effort. Her father wanted her to keep studying, but she had made up her mind – ‘I was in love with singing’ – and quit high school.

“During the 1960s, the live music and dance scene in Saigon was flourishing, flush with the injection of capital from American GIs and Vietnamese businessmen. Tâm’s voice was in high demand. During the day she would rehearse and at night she would perform to successive foreign and Vietnamese audiences. ‘I would sing from five in the afternoon until one in the morning. I would start at the airport base, then at 7pm I would sing at the officers’ club. I’d go to another dancing club after that.’ …

“When a position came up for her new husband hundreds of miles north of Saigon in Da Nang, as a flight surgeon in the South Vietnamese air force, she didn’t hesitate to follow him. Although she earned far more as a singer than he did as a physician, she left it all behind. ‘I forgot about all of it,’ Tâm says. ‘I didn’t have time to feel regret because I was soon busy taking care of three kids.’ In April 1975, in the final days of the war, the family fled to the US, where they were accepted as refugees.

“Tâm never divulged her musical past to her children. Only once while browsing in a Vietnamese music store in Orange County did she find a CD with some of her recordings, but she didn’t think to show it to them. …

“Tâm’s eldest daughter, Hannah Hà, joins the two of us on the call from St Louis, Missouri, where she lives and works as a doctor. Growing up in the US, Hà didn’t particularly like Vietnamese music compared with jazz, rock and pop, ‘but now I can’t get enough of it.’

“Hà always knew her mother wasn’t an amateur, thanks to the way she would steal the show at karaoke parties. As she writes in her moving essay in the liner notes: ‘Swaying and singing with her eyes closed, she transported the entire room back to a pre-1975 Saigon nightclub.’ She didn’t give her mother’s singing much thought, however, until the end of 2019, when a producer of the film Mat Biec (Dreamy Eyes) wrote to Tâm to discuss using her music. The approach piqued Hà’s curiosity: did her mother really sing rock’n’roll? Soon she found a 7-in vinyl single for sale on eBay with three tracks. …

“Hà put in a maximum bid of $2,000. ‘I just had this intense desire to have it,’ she says (in the end, she scored it for $167). Hà then sought the help of Mark Gergis, producer of the cult compilation Saigon Rock and Soul (2010), but finding the rest of Tâm’s music seemed impossible, given all they had to go on were three tracks and some incorrectly labelled YouTube videos.

“Gergis drew on his own collection and reached out to his extensive network; Hà messaged strangers on YouTube and Discogs before finding Adam Fargason, an American collector living in Vietnam.

‘Adam took me on these Saigon shopping trips which were virtual, because this was during the pandemic,’ Hà says.

” ‘He would visit these mom-and-pop antique shops and they would have these records on the floor in the back. They often had layers and layers of dirt, just naked albums without sleeves. He would put his phone to them so I could see, and we would go through them one by one.’ It was eventually discovered that Tâm recorded 27 tracks in total.

“ ‘When Hannah sent the music to me, I cried listening to every song,’ says Tâm. … ‘The project seemed tiring, but Hannah insisted,’ she says. ‘It’s taken 18 months because of all the scratched records; it’s been like climbing a mountain backwards. She’s very stubborn.’ “

More at the Guardian, here. Listen to the mother and daughter at the World, here.

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Photo: John Reynolds for the Boston Globe
Guilherme “Gilly” Assuncao reprised his impromptu concert of 2017 recently at Russo’s Market in Watertown.  

Talent will out. Don’t you love stories about talent being discovered in unlikely places? I like to think that it’s irrepressible and will be recognized one way or another. In this story, a sound check by a Brazilian baritone working as a dishwasher in a Massachusetts grocery store went viral and led to an unexpected opportunity.

Cristela Guerra writes at the Boston Globe, “In the produce aisle at Russo’s [in December], a group of customers waited eagerly to hear the golden voice of Guilherme ‘Gilly’ Assuncao.

“[At Christmas 2017], Assuncao was a dishwasher and deli worker at the Watertown market, when he broke into song while doing a soundcheck the night before a holiday concert there — and stopped shoppers in their tracks.

“Videos of him singing that evening at Russo’s went viral and propelled him into the limelight — and into Berklee College of Music.

“ ‘I never expected any of this to happen,’ said Assuncao [said]. ‘It’s emotional in a way that’s hard to explain. It’s just amazing and makes me really happy.’

“Raised in Brazil, Assuncao said he sang in the shower as a boy and loved belting out Whitney Houston songs. … The breakthrough performance at Russo’s [led] him to an invitation to audition and be interviewed at Berklee in the spring. Assuncao began classes at Berklee in August. …

“Assuncao has raised enough to pay for one year of schooling at Berklee so far with the support of fans locally and across the country, and through a GoFundMe page. ‘This place changed my life last year,’ Assuncao said. …

“ ‘Gilly is definitely an exceptional artist,’ said Olga Lisovskaya, a soprano, who sang with Assuncao. … ‘His voice comes straight from his soul and goes straight to your heart.’ …

“ ‘We knew his life was going to change,’ said Tony Russo, the market’s owner. ‘From that moment that he started to sing. It was just a beautiful moment. He’s a great talent and a great personality.’ ”

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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13Forest is an art and craft gallery in Arlington that invites Opera on Tap singers to perform at openings. Our daughter-in-law sent us an e-mail about this today, and we went. It was charming.

From Mark Adamo’s opera Little Women, the young performers sang Amy’s aria, Prof. Bhaer’s aria, and Beth’s, a gentle farewell. There was also a song based on a letter a soldier wrote to his wife before a battle in the Civil War.

A short and sweet event. Made us wonder why more galleries don’t do this.

Opera on Tap taking a bow at 13Forest Art Gallery. Read about the national organization bringing opera to the people here.


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The Israeli who was once a successful animator but turned to singing, Asaf Avidan, is playing at the Somerville Theatre tonight. James Reed wrote about him at the Boston Globe, and I was intrigued enough to check out his latest video. See the two little boys, below. Avidan is the one who gives them a large crystal when they are busking on toy instruments.

Reed writes,  “To fall in love merely with Asaf Avidan’s voice, which is easy to do, would be missing the bigger picture. … It’s the voice of resignation and resilience, beautiful but often brutal, and it just so happens that Avidan’s high timbre gives his performances an androgynous allure that leaves you hanging on every word.

“That much is true. But also at play is the fact that Avidan, a 32-year-old singer-songwriter with a substantial following in Europe and his native Israel, is particularly adept at deconstructing heartache in the most poetic of terms. That’s evident on ‘Different Pulses,’ his soulful latest album.”

The singer says, “The way I sing came from the reason I started singing. I was a successful animator up until about 2006, and because this reason to sing the blues [after a breakup] was so sudden in my life and so painful, I really needed for it to be physically difficult. I would find myself going higher on the scales, making it more difficult and screamy. I think that level of emotion brought me to these high scales, and that’s what people hear now. They hear the emotion.” More at the Globe.

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The Arab world is divided on whether Jennifer Grout is an interloper or the reincarnation of their beloved Egyptian chanteuse Umm Kalthoum. Last night she placed third in the Beirut-based “Arabs Got Talent.”

You will be hearing a lot about this young American singer of classical Arabic songs, who is wowing judges without being able to speak a word of Arabic. If nothing else, she is giving the show international recognition. This story is from Agence France Presse (AFP).

Having taught herself to sing “the Arab world’s best-known, most difficult songs,” says AFP, Grout gave contestants in “Arabs Got Talent” a run for their money.

In early December, “Her blonde hair loose and without a sign of make-up, the 23-year-old appeared before a panel of judges to audition for the ‘Arabs Got Talent.’

“When Egyptian film star and panel member Ahmed Helmy asked her in Arabic what her what her name was, she didn’t have a clue what he was saying.

“But then she began to play the oud and sing a classic by Egyptian diva Umm Kalthoum, ‘Baeed Annak’ (Far From You).

“She stunned the audience, enunciating every word to perfection as her voice effortlessly navigated the quarter-notes that make Arabic music so distinctive. …

“As a 20-year-old student in Boston, Grout says she ‘came across an online article about Fairouz” [a Lebanese singer often referred to as ambassador to the stars].

” ‘I listened to her and watched a video of her, and I was just really intrigued and mesmerised by her voice. So I decided to start exploring Arabic music more,’ Grout told AFP.”

Read more about her discovery of Arab music and the classical instrument called the oud three years ago and how she ended up competing on a show in Lebanon, here.

Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP
Jennifer Grout, a contestant in the pan-Arab TV show “Arabs Got Talent”, poses for a photo at the MBC television station studios in Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, on December 4, 2013.

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Here’s a tip for anyone planning to be in London in late fall. A cabaret festival, said to be the first ever, will take place in locales around the city.

Matthew Hemley writes at The Stage, “Comedian Alexander Armstrong and US singer Michael Feinstein are among the performers lined up to appear as part of the first London Festival of Cabaret.

“The festival will run from October 22 until November 15 with events taking place in a variety of venues across London.”Other acts taking part include Elaine Paige, Maria Friedman and Barb Jungr.

“Armstrong will appear in Alexander Armstrong and his Band Celebrate the Great British Songbook from October 28 to 31 at the St James Theatre, where Friedman will give a master class in performing cabaret on October 25.

“Friedman said: ‘Cabaret is a unique way for an artist to hone their communication skills, allowing the audience an up-close, concentrated, in-the-moment experience.’ ”


My husband and I enjoy cabaret music. We like to catch Will McMillan when he performs, whether it’s in Jeff Flaster’s original musical Tortoise or on the terrace in front of Cambridge Adult Ed.

Are you going to London, Will? These London guys need to see the show you put on with Bobbi and Doug, don’t you think?

Photo: Willsings.com

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Last night I went to a jazz benefit for the nonprofit Kids4Peace Boston, which sponsors a summer camp and other events for children of three faiths — Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. The children are from both the United States and Jerusalem and are 11 to 12. Read more about the program here.

The fundraising event was held in the Grand Circle Gallery in Boston, which features magnificent travel posters and travel photography from the 1930s and 1940s. The entertainment was provided by Indian vocalist Annette Philip and her jazz quartet. Very impressive.

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Someone who used to know her well alerted me to the story of the Mystery Grammy Nominee. At 51 and without a record label, she has managed to get a remarkable burst of attention for her music.

Writes Christopher Morris at Variety, “Linda Chorney used the Recording Academy’s Grammy 365 website to connect with voters.

“Armed only with a computer and some chutzpah, a longshot snuck through the back door and into the Grammy Awards competition this year.
The resourceful Linda Chorney secured a Grammy nomination in the category of Americana album for her self-produced, self-released ‘Emotional Jukebox’ by taking her mission directly to voters, employing the peer-to-peer function of the Recording Academy’s own site for members, Grammy 365.

“Many in the tight-knit Americana community have reacted quizzically, and sometimes vehemently, to Chorney’s nomination, which trumped several well-known artists in the genre. The virtually unknown Sea Bright, N.J.-based musician will face off on Feb. 12 against a field of nominees that has collectively garnered a total of 23 Grammys. And while some question her methods, her online campaign falls completely within the academy’s parameters for acceptable self-promotion.” Read more.

There are several videos on YouTube. What do you think? Leave a comment.

Follow us on twitter @LunaStellaBlog1.

Update: Chorney didn’t win a Grammy, but she has been invited to sing the national anthem at Fenway Park before an April 2012 Red Sox game, another item on her “bucket list.”

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