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Phi Nhung, Bolero and Folk Songstress, Passes Away at 51 Due to Covid-19

Over the years, the resurgence in popularity of bolero music in Vietnam has spawned numerous new stars, but Phi Nhung’s place in the genre as a veteran chanteuse can never be replaced.

Yesterday, September 28, Cho Ray Hospital confirmed with local media that singer Phạm Phi Nhung had passed away at after over a month of battling COVID-19. She was 51-years-old and is survived by a daughter living in the US.

In July, when Saigon plunged into the darkest period of the ongoing outbreak, Nhung chose to remain in the city to take care of her adopted children and carry out charity efforts instead of returning to the US.

As Tuoi Tre reports, from June until mid-August, she organized activities to seek ventilators for local hospitals and rice for affected families. She also volunteered at food centers in Saigon to prepare meals for the homeless. It’s believed that she came into contact with F0 cases at the facilities and was infected, and she had not been vaccinated at the time.

On August 15, her condition became severe and she was admitted to Gia An 115 Hospital. As her symptoms quickly worsened, she was transferred to Cho Ray Hospital on August 26. According to the hospital, Nhung was put on ECMO, but succumbed to the disease over time due to multiple cytokine storms and organ failure.

Phi Nhung is one of the most prolific singers of Vietnam, having released dozens of CDs. Despite not receiving formal vocal training, her ability to imbue emotions in performances led to a successful career both in Vietnam and among the Vietnamese diaspora. Nhung’s emotive voice lent itself well to a number of genres including bolero, ballads, southern folk, and even cải lương.

Nhung was born in 1970 in Pleiku, Gia Lai Province to a Vietnamese mother and an American father. Some sources suggest that her father was an American serviceman, though she has said in interviews that her mother never mentioned her father. Nhung’s mother gave birth to her in a temple, as her grandparents disapproved of the “illegitimate” pregnancy. They had a change of heart and raised her after her mother skipped town and remarried, ashamed of having a biracial child.

Nhung then began living with her mom at 8 years old, but became an orphan two years later after her mother died. In 1989, Phi Nhung migrated to the US, where she received training from an NGO to become a housekeeper at a hotel. She took on odd jobs at night and nurtured her dream of being a singer. A chance encounter with Vietnamese-American singer Trizzie Phương Trinh, then an established performer in the diaspora, led to Nhung moving to California to room with Trizze and starting a modest singing career.

Since then, Nhung had taken part in many concerts organized by Vietnamese-American studios such as Thuy Nga Entertainment and Asia Entertainment while releasing album compilations. In 2002, she was allowed to return to Vietnam, making a name for herself in reality TV competitions, feature films, live shows, and even entrepreneurship.

[Photo via VnExpress]

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