Holding a torch for two divas

Updated: 2012-02-17 18:59

By Mu Qian (China Daily)

  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Holding a torch for two divas

Holding a torch for two divas

The Chinese media's entertainment sections have been focusing on the recent sad news of two divas, the African-American singer Whitney Houston and the Taiwan singer Fong Fei-fei.

Houston died of drugs and alcohol on Feb 11, at 48 years old. Fong, 58, passed away because of lung cancer on Jan 3, though the news came out only this week due to Fong's wish not to disturb the Chinese New Year celebrations.

On Chinese online forums and micro blogs, mourners of Houston and Fong are often the same group of people, although the two stars differ greatly in styles and cultural backgrounds.

Apart from what seems to be a cosmopolitan sentiment toward women artistes, there is something else that links the two together in Chinese people's hearts.

Fong and Houston were from the first batch of pop stars from outside the mainland who made their voices heard in the 1980s, when pop music just began to enter Chinese people's lives. Fong delivered a soft, Japanese-influenced sound in the early 1980s, while Houston popularized rhythm and blues in the mid- to late 1980s.

At a time when China was less open and when the Internet did not exist, Fong's songs circulated mostly through copied tape cassettes, with hand-scribed lyrics. Her works were covered so often that a lot of her numbers became associated with other singers more than with Fong herself.

Houston's songs first appeared on Chinese radio programs dedicated to Western pop music, something pioneering at that time. Her songs were also featured in compilations of English songs for students of the English language, in which her credit was not always given.

In the 1980s, when we were desperate to grab any pop music that was available, we heard many works without knowing the singers, and it was years later that the names of those artistes were known.

Fong and Houston were never top stars in the Chinese market like their peers Teresa Teng and Michael Jackson. But their works diffused widely and paved the way for the development of the burgeoning Chinese pop music scene. Many of China's pop singers older than 35 are indebted to their influences.

Unfortunately, neither Fong nor Houston performed on the Chinese mainland during the heydays of their careers. Houston gave concerts in Beijing and Shanghai in 2004, after years of drug abuse that adversely affected her voice and mind. Fong held her first Chinese mainland concert in Shanghai in 2007, which mostly attracted people who went for nostalgia rather than music.

The entertainment industry never lacks new faces, and we had almost forgotten Fong and Houston until the news of their deaths came.

Though both Fong and Houston had been dropped from my record shelf long ago, they played important roles in my adolescence and early music education, as a member of the first Chinese generation to have grown up listening to pop.

The artists gave the best of themselves in their songs, though their life stories might not have been as perfect. Let's listen to their songs once more. I select Fong's Dreamer and Houston's Greatest Love of All.

You can contact the writer at muqian@chinadaily.com.cn.