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Music

Bittersweet 93rd birthday for veteran Hong Kong DJ ‘Uncle Ray’ as he mourns friend and singer Mona Fong

The radio legend is excusing himself from the memorial of his good friend for some quiet time to recall fond memories and tunes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 7:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 3:01pm

Nothing can describe the mixed feelings of veteran Hong Kong radio DJ Ray Cordeiro as he celebrates his birthday while also mourning the death of a long-time friend.

“Uncle Ray”, who turns 93 on Tuesday, reflected on 60 years of “fond memories” with late singer Mona Fong Yat-wah, whose memorial also falls on the same day.

“Music drew us together as I admired her voice and she had probably admired mine. I played her music as a DJ over the years,” Cordeiro said of Fong, who died last month at the age of 83.

In her heyday, Mona Fong was a star in Singapore and Malaysia, with her expressive voice drawing crowds

Cordeiro started his radio career when he joined British broadcaster Rediffusion in 1949, the year Fong arrived in Hong Kong. She would host the variety programme Mona Fong Show at the station in 1957.

“That show was very popular as she was already famous from her English songs. But I first heard her when she was a cabaret singer and I was most impressed with her bassy voice,” said Cordeiro, holder of a Guinness World Record as “most durable DJ”.

It was because of her popularity that Cordeiro invited her to be the only female singer to perform on stage with Matt Monro at Operation Santa Claus, a 1962 charity event at the new City Hall. Monro was a top British singer who would later record hits such as From Russia with Love and Born Free.

“Matt’s real name was Terry Parsons and he won many singing competitions when he was a serviceman in Hong Kong in the early 1950s, so he already knew about Mona. Their singing together was a highlight of the event,” Cordeiro said.

He recalled that Monro addressed Fong as “a very young lady” as he invited her to sing When the Saints Go Marching In. Cordeiro described her voice to be as mellow as that of American jazz great Ella Fitzgerald.

Hong Kong DJ ‘Uncle’ Ray Cordeiro still plays and breaks records at 90

The excellent response to Fong’s performance meant Cordeiro had to follow up on a dare at the event.

“The drive dictated that when the HK$5,000 target was reached, I had to dive into Victoria Harbour, and I did. It was December, and I did that three times,” he said, laughing.

While Cordeiro was happy for his friend, he said it was a pity that Fong switched careers to become a business executive after marrying revered movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw.

“It made me sad for such a good singer to give up her profession,” he said.

Among items left behind by Fong is a cherished vinyl record she gave to Cordeiro during a lunch at her Clear Water Bay house in the 1980s.

“I didn’t know why she selected that one out of so many recordings. But this line in the lyrics of a song struck me: ‘I know that now you’ve gone, I’ll be alone’,” he said.

Although he misses his friend, Cordeiro said he would excuse himself from her memorial at the Shaw Movie City in Tseung Kwan O, as he might get too emotional.

“Since it is my birthday and I want to have a quiet moment, it is a good excuse not to show up,” he said.

On playing Fong’s songs on his daily show since the news of her death, he said: “I’m sure she is listening wherever she is, knowing that I’m thinking of her.”