Coming Home Again

In 1974 Thanh Lan was at the height of her career in Saigon, now 45 years later she returns to the city to relive her glory days

A voice has returned to Saigon that has been absent for a long time and is once again home. First returning to Saigon in 2017 after an absence of 24 years, Thanh Lan has come back to us, singing once more the ballads and old folk songs that recall a lost age for a new generation of admirers, the children of those who loved her decades ago.

It was during the city’s “golden age” of music—which lasted from the 60s into the early 70s—that Thanh Lan was considered one of Saigon’s sweetest songstresses and a darling of the romantic movies that were made at the time. In 1974, she was named Saigon’s most beautiful actress; she was the last woman of her era to receive the award, making her something of a time capsule of the age.

A large part of her appeal was the fact that she seemed to do it naturally; the music seemed to come to her as easily as speech, and her honeyed vocal notes were all the more intoxicating in Saigon’s 60s and 70s for being steeped in the passionate inflections of an eternal romantic.

“I did not have to fight to become famous. I did not look for fame. I just wanted to look for love,” breathes Thanh Lan, now in her early 70s and yet still lit with the enthusiasm of the young performer she once was. “So when I sing, and people love me, I feel good. And so I did that. I never guessed that one day it would be my profession.”

Thanh Lan is back, but Saigon was already fading before the slow cascade of modern development caked over the soporific grace of the city she remembers. Her childhood, spent in the outskirts of Dakao where she would often wander through the stately open courtyards of the Jade Emperor pagoda neighboring her home, is a story that could only have belonged to that age. The granddaughter of a mandarin who once taught the last Nguyen emperor Bao Dai, she was raised in a multilingual household where French and sometimes English were spoken as often as Vietnamese.

She was also schooled from an early age in the sounds of the music her parents loved; heavy vinyl records scratching out wonderful old crooners like Johnny Mathis and the smooth pop vocals of Connie Francis. At the age of nine, she began to study music herself with a nun at her Catholic elementary school, St. Paul’s—and by the time she attended the prestigious Marie Curie High School, she was already singing solo on Saigon radio.

Thanh Lan -Japanese CD cover 1974

Thanh Lan’s education in French gave her a different view of the world than most people living in Vietnam had at that time. She read at least a book a week, submerging herself in literary romances and classics in translation from English and Spanish. She was a language lover, studying German and Russian and Japanese, and was intent on becoming a teacher one day and passing on her gift. She retains her multilingual talents even today; our interview is conducted effortlessly in English.

Her destiny, however, proved to be music—much to the delight of the legions of fans who fell for her, and who still love her today.

“At first I sang classic songs from the 40s and 50s, written by composers in North Vietnam, before we moved to music from the south, because at that time, there were not many good songs,” she recalls. “So we started by singing those old songs. And then in the 60s and 70s, there were a lot of new composers, writing so many good songs about the war, about lovers separated by the war, all that stuff. I started to sing on TV very often, and then I became a movie star.”

“I was like the girl next door,” she sighs. “I am not saying that everybody was in love with me. But I was certainly cherished by all the students and young officers. I used to have a lot of photos to send away for my fans. They would write letters, send them to my address, and I would respond and put a signed photo in with the letter. It was very sweet, but sadly we don’t do that anymore.”

Thanh Lan Miss Cinéma, 1974

Throughout her early career, Thanh Lan was still living with her parents. “I did not need money to survive,” she says, “so what I wanted most in life was to give happiness to people. When I sing, and I look at people looking at me, smiling with bright eyes, I feel close to them. And I feel that I’m doing something good for them, for society. And mostly, since it has become my profession, I can take care of myself with my singing. I don’t need to lean on anybody.”

For most of the past 25 years, Thanh Lan has lived in the US, where she continued her career singing to the large community of Vietnamese resident in the States. In that different world, however, her music at first took on a different and more painful cultural context. In spite of this, Thanh Lan has remained in the public eye throughout her time overseas, and is now always a cherished entertainer everywhere she goes—Europe, Canada, Asia, Australia and the US—as her romantic performance style has only grown stronger.

“I think my spirit is busy,” Thanh Lan explains. “I share people’s sufferings, that’s why when I sing or when I act, I imagine myself in that position. I don’t really act; I became that woman. That’s how I do it. There’s no technique, nothing—nothing. Nothing I need to think about. I just live with the moment.

“There were some misunderstandings when I first arrived in California in 1994, before the embargo was released. Anyway—I’m still fine, I’m here to stay as long as I can. Because I still love the stage.”

As a public figure, Thanh Lan knows that for those who love her music, there’s one thing more than anything else she means to them.

“Actually, it’s my fans who are taking care of my life. When they came to see me, it was them who helped me to live happily, helped me to cope with my life,” she smiles. “You know, my fans, when they meet me, they still say, ‘when we see you, we see Saigon.’”

Leave a Comment

5 Examples of Wrongful Termination Explained

Being fired from work can be a traumatic experience for anyone. However, if it has been done illegally it’s even more overwhelming. There are many instances where letting go of an employee is completely valid. But, if you have been unfairly dismissed without a reason – legal action can be taken.  To help you understand

Read More »

Six Signs That Indicate Your Partner Is Micro-Cheating On You

Relationship experts say that “clearly defining your boundaries can set a happy and healthy relationship with your partners.” However, we may need to understand when these boundaries go too far off the line and create a rift in our relationship. Every relationship has little white lies or harmless secrets that partners keep from each other. Not

Read More »

How Carpet Cleaning Enhances Carpet’s life and Value?

Carpet cleaning can be painstaking when you have a large house and many carpets. With that in mind, it is easy to understand why people require the services of professional carpet cleaning companies that can quickly clean up your messes. However, carpets are not the only things you might need to clean up. When it

Read More »

The States That Have Legalized Marijuana So Far 2021

Are you interested in the legalization status of marijuana, especially in the United States, and want to learn more? Do you want to know where in the United States you could visit and still be able to smoke a joint legally? The legalization of marijuana has been a hot topic in the United States for

Read More »

Understanding A Hoarder: Why Can’t They Throw Anything Away?

To provide an understanding and the process of hoarding, we must first understand its definition. Hoarding is defined as a single-minded urge of collecting and safekeeping unwanted items in great numbers. Most of the people afflicted with hoarding disorder find it hard to throw away items. A hoarder desires to save items that they know

Read More »

Vietnam War Student Protests

Where did the student movement begin? The US airplanes started bombing North Vietnam in February 1965 after North Vietnamese submarines invaded 2 US ships at the Gulf of Tonkin. President Lyndon B Johnson commanded the revenge attacks blasting armed targets in North Vietnam. There were some criticisms about how the government was battling the self-governing

Read More »