Hail Hong Kong's Canto-pop royalty

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2007, 12:00am

Danny Chan Pak-keung

One of the city's most popular singers in the 1980s, Chan was among the first generation of Canto-pop idols.

The baby-faced singing superstar, whose concerts were consistently sold out, was best known for his beautiful rendition of sentimental ballads and high-quality compositions as a songwriter.

He joined the music industry in the late 1970s - his teen idol image and music style had a huge influence on Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing and Alan Tam Wing-lun, the Canto-pop kings of the mid-1980s.

His 1977 debut album, Tears In My Heart, won him legions of teenage fans. He released 30 albums during his 15-year career, which had taken a downturn by the late 1980s. His last album, Because I Love You, came out in 1991.

Chan died in 1993 aged 35 after being in a coma for 17 months after a suspected drug overdose.

Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing

For anyone who grew up in the 1990s, this Canto-pop star was better known as an actor of enormous depth and emotion.

But Cheung, who became a singer after being the runner-up in ATV's Asian Music Contest in 1976, had enough classic hits under his belt to make him a natural choice for a list of the city's top performers.

The long-standing rivalry between his fans and those of Alan Tam, another top Canto-pop singer at the time, is the stuff of Canto-pop folklore. In 1988, Tam announced that he would quit all music awards ceremonies. Cheung, at the peak of his music career, decided to retire from music the following year.

Cheung didn't return to music until he signed with Rock Records in 1995. The following year, he released perhaps his most critically acclaimed album Red. Its sophisticated, fusion sound was a huge step forward from his standard Canto-pop music of the 1980s.

On April 1, 2003, when the city was at the height of the Sars outbreak, Cheung had a final drink on a balcony overlooking Victoria Harbour on the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Central. He wrote a suicide note saying he was depressed and leapt to his death. He was 46.

Roman Tam Pak-sin

Over his three-decade career, Roman Tam Pak-sin was one of the few Hong Kong singers to become a cultural icon. His music, such as his signature song Under the Lion Rock, was particularly meaningful for the generation who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s.

Known as Hong Kong's answer to Frank Sinatra, Tam was the first Asian artist to play in London's Royal Albert Hall and New York's Carnegie Hall.

In addition to his pitch-perfect vocals, he was also a groundbreaking artist in terms of his innovative image. He was the first star to rock Hong Kong in 1973 with a cross dyed on his crew cut, a teardrop drawn on his cheek and one eye covered in blue eye-shadow. He even posed nude for a magazine photo shoot.

He succumbed to liver cancer in 2002. He was 52.

James Wong Jim

Known to the public as 'Uncle Jim', Wong was a master lyricist who wrote more than 2,000 songs starting in the 1960s.

Together with his songwriter friend Joseph Koo Ka-fai, the first local composer to merge western music theory with Chinese melodies, Wong produced numerous timeless classics.

Among these were theme songs for popular TVB dramas in the 1970s and 80s. This songwriting team - Hong Kong's equivalent to the partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney - revolutionised the local music scene.

Despite his flamboyant appearance and hot-headed temperament, Wong was known as a hard worker with a positive attitude towards life. In addition to being a lyricist, Wong was also an actor, movie director, writer, advertiser and show host.

Wong, a heavy smoker for most of his life, died of lung cancer in 2004.

Anita Mui Yim-fong

In 1982, Mui won first prize in the New Talent Singing Contest organised by TVB, launching her professional singing career. In the same year, she released her debut album Debt of Heart, the first of nearly 50 albums in her 21-year music and showbiz career.

The Canto-pop queen set the standard for the city's female Canto-pop singers with her tough yet flamboyant appearance as well as strong vocals. She merged influences as diverse as Madonna and Japanese pop idols, while casting off the shackles of 1970s sexual stereotyping and presenting the image of a strong, assertive woman.

Her hits, such as Bad Girl, Dream Partner and Evil Lady, set the trend for music in the 1980s.

She also starred in many films and television programmes throughout her career.

A good friend of Leslie Cheung, the pair sang a duet in 2002 - the last time the glamorous pair performed together on the stage. At age 40 - about six months after Cheung's death - Mui lost her battle with cancer.

Sam Hui Koon-kit

There was Canto-pop before Hui, but there's no denying that local music was never the same after his Games Gamblers Play took the music scene by storm in 1974.

Still active and known to many Hong Kong people as the 'God of song', Hui, 59, helped to develop the indigenous Canto-pop culture with his witty lyrics about daily life and catchy tunes influenced by western stars, such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

He began his music career performing American and British songs. He then started penning and singing Cantonese songs for the comedies produced and directed by his film comedian brother, Michael Hui Koon-man.

Hui's light-hearted music touches on a wide variety of themes - from social issues and relationships, to philosophies of life - that strike a chord with average Hong Kong people.

Hui retired in 1992 but resumed performing in 2004.