Rita Chao, best known to her Mandarin-speaking fans as 凌雲 (…Ling Yun, Ling Ying or Seow Mei-Mei, depending on the source of information you'd prefer to rely on…), was born in Singapore, probably sometimes in 1949 or early 1950; she grew up there, where she received her education.
Anyway, according to some reports, her family originated from the city of Hangzhou (杭州), which is located in the Zhejiang Province (浙江省) in Eastern China, not so far from Shanghai (上海).
Rita, the youngest of six children with three brothers and two sisters, started singing at the tender age of 8 and was already working as a singer and actress at 14. At school she was not very interested in her academic studies, instead she excelled with performance arts: singing and acting.
Luckily enough, she was born in a family of artists: her grandmother, Zhao Yongchun (趙永春), was a known Chinese Opera singer, and her mother Jing Yu Xian (荊玉仙) was a Chinese Opera singer too. Growing up in this environment allowed her to be familiar with life in the entertainment business, and helped to mentor her future career.
Her parents and relatives saw her potential as an artist quite soon, and decided to pull Rita out of school to follow the Opera troupe on their performances. Rita was given chances to perform Chinese Opera on stage and her performances were very good.
It is unclear when and where Rita embraced Pop music... However, at the end of 1965 - when she was just 15 - while touring Malaysia with her former group, she joined a band called Super XX.
In the meantime Zhao Yongchun, determined to turn her beloved granddaughter into a star, increased her vocal training, became her manager and successfully arranged for her to perform in various nightclubs in Singapore.
Rita was discovered on the local entertainment scene by Su Yin (舒雲), a.k.a. Henry Foo, a Singaporean singer, songwriter and lyricist, who at the time was also the A&R manager for the Chinese section at Columbia / EMI.
In 1966 she was signed by the label and released her very first 7" EP. On this record, she was paired with the top guitar band from Singapore, The Quests. The EP sold over 50.000 copies, and for Rita it was instant stardom.
During those days Rita met Sakura Teng (櫻花). As the story goes, Sakura was already a star singing at various Cabarets throughout South East Asia. On one occasion before going on stage, Sakura and Rita were backstage talking; they instantly clicked and started singing together. Sakura thought they had a very distinctive sound and that night she decided to add a segment to the show in which they would sing a duet. Obviously, they received a stunning reaction from the public and decided to join forces...
Well, probably that is just the romantic version of the story...: since both singers were doing quite well, it is an easy guess that EMI felt that pairing them would give both their careers a boost. In 1967 Rita and Sakura began performing as a double act and constantly toured Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan, building a fan base at each port of call.
...the EP was also released with a different cover offering orange as the main colour...
During her heyday Rita Chao recorded many great Mandarin covers of popular English songs and she was part of the pioneers who launched the Rock Movement in Singapore. Along with Sakura, they were both known as 'A Go-Go Queens of the Sixties"; in those days, they used to perform at the now defunct New World Amusement Park and they both lived in Jalan Besar.
Rita's career lasted about ten years. In 1975, when her last solo album was released, she declared in an interview that she was about to make a movie in Hong Kong and that she was tired of singing all the time... In 1980-81 she briefly returned on the scene releasing two albums with Sakura, just before disappearing completely.
For more than three decades there has been no news about her in the media, only during recent years unconfirmed information appeared on the Internet that she may have been suffering from a psychiatric illness that required long-term treatment.
While searching information for this post, I stumbled upon some comments on YouTube that give her up for dead... Despite these rumours, I truly hope that she's still alive and well.
A visitor of this blog was kind enough to share some information about Rita Chao and confirmed the rumours above, you can read more about this in the comments section of this post and in the comments section of this clip on YouTube. Henk Madrotter also confirmed on his blog that Rita recently passed away.
...it's in the news now: AsiaOne Women (1), AsiaOne Women (2), The Straits Times, Lollipop.
"Shake, Shake, Shake" inner gatefold contains lyrics, a short biography and two Rita Chao / Sakura pictures
Here's the track list for this 7" EP:
01. 搖搖搖 (Shake, Shake, Shake) (1:48)
02. 愛人你變了 (I Know) (3:17)
03. 快樂誕辰 (Happy Happy Birthday) (3:16)
04. 想起他 (As Tears Go By) (2:47)
All tracks were remastered in January 2015 and are available in FLAC lossless format or high-quality 320 Kbps MP3 files; both formats include scans of the complete original artwork.
Please have a look at the comments for the download links.
Side 1 opens with the reverberd drums of "搖搖搖" (Shake, Shake, Shake), the very short and lively title-track. This song was originally included in the 1966 movie "何日君再来" (Till the End of Time) which was a huge success in Singapore and launched the acting career of the young 胡燕妮 (Jenny Hu). The voice singing the original tune belongs to Chinese singer and dubbing artist 静婷 (Tsin Ting); you can watch the original music number here.
The original version of "愛人你變了" (I Know) was written by Robert Suriya of Naomi & The Boys and was included on the band's second EP released in 1965 by Philips. "快樂誕辰" (Happy Happy Birthday) was also included in the same EP, and is a cover of a 1957 Doo Wop number by The Tune Weavers (...original version is here).
Both songs were very popular among young people in Singapore then, especially the originally titled "Happy Happy Birthday, Baby!" which, according to what Joseph C. Pereira wrote in his "Apache Over Singapore" book, «became a favourite at parties due to its value for having a good smooch.» You can listen to the Naomi & The Boys' own versions by clicking here and here.
The EP ends with "想起他" (As Tears Go By), a song written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Rolling Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham. It was originally released as a single by Marianne Faithfull in 1964; The Rolling Stones recorded their own version later, releasing the track in late 1965.
From left to right, Sakura and Rita Chao as they appear on the inner gatefold of this EP, 1966
The inner gatefold of this release contains a short piece about Rita Chao which is included here below courtesy of our best friend Brian, who translated it in English for us, thank you!
«Creating talent is not hard, but finding someone with natural talent is not easy. Anyone would say that Rita Chao is naturally talented although that would not be enough to express how talented she actually is. Being brought up in a family of artists, having the support of her grandmother and her mother and Rita's own hard work has brought her to success. Under all of these circumstances, Rita Chao has become a young, bright, loved, and talented star.
Rita Chao's sound is full of energy which makes her so captivating. Who would have guessed that someone with such a peaceful and quiet personal life, once on stage can become so energetic with music and dance.
Rita Chao comes from a family of artists. She started singing at the young age of 8. She performed at many charity concerts and toured quiet often. She has received the nickname "School Girl Crush".
Currently as a new artist on the scene, she has found the right people to collaborate with. This has helped to make Rita such a star to her fans and to people all around.»
The following clips offer a preview of the remastered EP, enjoy: "搖搖搖 (Shake, Shake, Shake)" and "想起他 (As Tears Go By)"!
More information about Rita Chao is available here:
In the next months I will post more Hong Kong/Taiwan/Singapore/etc. Pop/Instrumental records released in the late-60s / mid-70s. As usual, I would like to provide information about these releases and their authors.
Unfortunately the Internet doesn't offer much information - written in English - about these artists and this is the reason why I need help: if you can translate from Chinese to English please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you so much!
It's been difficult to obtain these vinyls, some are not in the best conditions and I'm currently working hard to properly master them. It seems that these artists and their music are poorly known in the West, of course it's a real pity because they made stunning releases: I'd like to share them with you with a proper presentation, hope that someone will be able to help.