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.
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.
In early February 2015 the news about her death spreaded: Rita's 90-years-old mother confirmed that the former singer passed away in July 2014; she has been suffering from colon cancer for about three years when she died at the Singapore General Hospital surrounded by her mother, brothers and sisters. Her ashes were scattered at sea after a short wake and funeral attended by family and friends. The family did not inform show business friends as they wanted the past to be forgotten...
Most of the information included in this post was translated by our best friend Brian (...thank you!!!) from a rare article found in the May 19, 1970 edition of "Hong Kong TV Magazine" available in this post on the great macaenese5354 blog.
I am also in debt with Joseph C. Pereira, whose books "Apache Over Singapore" and "Beyond the Tea Dance" are a constant and invaluable source of information and inspiration, thanks!!!
Here's the track list for this 7" EP:
01. 隔壁的冤家 (The Boy Next Door) (2:00)
02. 別纏住我 (Only Friends) (3:33)
03. Sixteen Candles (3:15)
04. 往日的舊夢 (Gonna Be Alright) (2:22)
All tracks were remastered from the original vinyl in May 2016 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with scans of the complete original artwork.
Please have a look at the comments section for the download link.
"隔壁的冤家 (The Boy Next Door)" was released by EMI /Columbia in early 1967. It is one of the most common Rita Chao singles available on the second hand market, and also one of the cheapest, so it would be a good starting point for anyone wishing to collect her early releases... The picture on the front cover is the same that also graces her debut album issued a few months later, just... reversed. Once again, the backing band duties are performed by The Quests; now let's have a closer look at each track.
Side 1 opens with the title track "隔壁的冤家 (The Boy Next Door)", a song written by Johnny Madara and David White that was originally performed by American girl group The Secrets in 1963. The same year the song was turned into a huge hit in Singapore by The Crescendos, you can listen to their version own by clicking here.
"別纏住我 (Only Friends)" is a Mandarin cover of "Ton meilleur ami", a song originally performed by French singer and actress Françoise Hardy in 1962. An English version of this song was popularized in Singapore by Heather and The Thunderbirds.
On Side B we find "Sixteen Candles", the immortal youth anthem written by Luther Dixon and Allyson R. Khent, and originally performed by American Doo-wop group The Crests in 1958. On this release Rita sings a slightly adapted version of the original English lyrics; a version with Mandarin lyrics was also recorded and released during the same year.
The EP comes to an end with "往日的舊夢 (Gonna Be Alright)", another Mandarin cover version of Gerry and The Pacemakers' hit. The song was written by Gerry Mardsen and originally performed by the group in 1964.
The following clips offer a complete preview of the remastered EP, enjoy!
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.