Wang Kun, the original 'White Haired Girl', dies

The singer who was the lead in the revolutionary opera's premiere passes away in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 November, 2014, 5:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 November, 2014, 5:43am

Wang Kun, the celebrated Chinese opera singer, has died.

She passed away in Beijing on Friday. She was 89.

She was perhaps best known for playing the leading role in the premiere of the revolutionary opera The White-Haired Girl in Yanan in 1945.

She died two months after her husband Zhou Weishi, who passed away at the age of 98.

The couple had lived at Yanan, a base for communist forces during the 1930s and 1940s, and were among the last survivors of that period of the country's revolutionary history.

Wang was born in 1925 in Tang county near Baoding in Hebei province .

She excelled at singing at primary school but her secondary school education was interrupted by the war with Japan.

Instead she took part in propaganda work and joined the Western Front Regiment in 1939 to sing and teach communist revolutionary songs. The regiment's chief was Zhou Weishi.

The newlyweds settled in Yanan in 1943.

Wang got to sing to Zhou Enlai and his wife and became their favourite singer. She became a household name after she performed the leading role in The White-Haired Girl.

Later, under the auspices of Zhou, she became the artistic chief of the new Oriental Song and Dance Ensemble in 1962 to promote the folk songs of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In 1964, she was among 3,000 performers at a huge production of The East is Red at the Great Hall of the People.

Her singing of Song of Fellow Peasants drew praise from Mao Zedong.

But that did not prevent Wang and her family from suffering during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. Branded as a counter-revolutionary, Wang recalled her husband shouting "Don't think about suicide under any situation. Think about our kids!" as the Red Guards dragged her away.

Ironically, it was through singing old favourites from The White-Haired Girl, such as The Coming of Dawn, that Wang kept her sanity while she was behind bars.

After the Cultural Revolution, she resumed her duties at the song and dance ensemble.

She also embraced rock music and gave the celebrated singer Cui Jian the chance to sing Nothing to my Name at a concert in 1985.

Wang retired in 1989 but her championing of folk songs continued unabated.

Her last performance was on October 2 at the Great Hall of the People.

She was in a wheelchair until the band played Song of Fellow Peasants.

She then rose and sang the whole song on her feet, just as she did on the same stage almost half a century earlier.