Spotlight On Singer Thái Thanh

Shirley Ly, Children's Librarian, Lincoln Heights Branch Library,
Phạm Thị Băng Thanh (August 5, 1934-March 17, 2020)
Phạm Thị Băng Thanh (August 5, 1934-March 17, 2020)

Thái Thanh, born Phạm Thị Băng Thanh (August 5, 1934-March 17, 2020), was a legendary Vietnamese American singer. She was considered one of the most iconic singers of the Western-influenced popular music in Vietnam, known as "New Music of Vietnam." Born the youngest of five children in an artistic family, Thái Thanh started her music career at the age of 14.

Vietnamese choral group
Vietnamese American choral group stands in front of the Vietnamese Flag, [n.d.]. Photo credit: James Ruebsamen, Herald Examiner Collection

She did not have any formal music training but learned about singing from her knowledge of Northern Vietnamese folk songs and French music books. Thái Thanh garnered pop culture status in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War with her unique style of singing–a combination of Tonkinese folk music, French popular music, and Western opera. She is legendary for her musical performances by a variety of musicians, including her brother-in-law, Phạm Duy, who wrote some of her most well-known songs, which include Dòng sông xanh, Cho nhau, Nương chiều, Bà mẹ Gio Linh and Kỷ niệm.

In 1956, Thái Thanh married film actor Lê Quỳnh, with whom they had five children. With the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the Communist government repeatedly asked Thái Thanh to sing propaganda music for them. Because of her refusal, she was banned from concerts, the radio, and television for ten years.

Vietnamese rally
Photograph caption reads, "We want human rights for Vietnam. South Vietnam is now a political prisoner," said Nhung Tran of the Federation of Vietnamese Volunteer Youth that organized yesterday's protest." [1983]. Photo credit: Michael Edwards, Herald Examiner Collection

In 1985, she immigrated to the United States and became part of the Vietnamese musical diaspora in Orange County, California.

Oil tanker rescues "Boat people"
Oil tanker rescues "Boat people," view 2, [1979]. Shades of L.A.: Vietnamese American Community

Thái Thanh has performed at live music shows for overseas Vietnamese audiences throughout North America, Australia, and Europe, along with appearances for music videos celebrating Vietnamese music and culture. She retired from singing in 2002 and died on March 17, 2020—a great loss for the Vietnamese community.

Suggested Activities to explore Vietnamese culture:

  • Visit the Asian Garden Mall, known in Vietnamese as Phước Lộc Thọ: Located in Westminster, California, the Asian Garden Mall is the first and largest Vietnamese American shopping mall and has been a symbol of the Vietnamese American community. Opened in 1987, the shopping center has served as a focal point of Little Saigon in Orange County. It is the location for many cultural and political events for the Vietnamese American community. Please drop by and visit some of their many shops offering traditional gowns and souvenirs, and try some of the fantastic foods!
Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant owners
Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant owners, Little Saigon on Bolsa Avenue, [1989]. Photo credit: Steven Gold, Shades of L.A. Collection
  • Eat a Vietnamese sandwich called Bánh Mì: In Vietnamese cuisine, bánh mì is a baguette with a thin crispy crust with a soft and airy texture inside. In the mid-19th Century, the baguette was introduced to Vietnam by the French and became a popular meal by the early 20th Century. Bánh mì is often served with various types of meat and vegetables as a meal, including pork sausages, cilantro, chili, pate, and buttery mayonnaise. After the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese American community popularized bánh mì throughout various countries, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia.
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