Pham Duy Biography

Phạm Duy is a celebrated Vietnamese songwriter who is known for writing patriotic lyrics which were banned in his own country. This biography provides detailed information about his childhood, profile, career & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: October 5, 1921

Nationality: American

Famous: Lyricists & Songwriters American Men

Died At Age: 91

Sun Sign: Libra

Also Known As: Phạm, Duy, Phạm Duy Cẩn, Phạm Duy

Born in: Hanoi

Famous as: Songwriter


Spouse/Ex-: Thai Hang

mother: Nguyễn Thị Hòa

siblings: Pham Duy Khiem

children: Duy Cuong, Duy Quang, Thai Hien, Thai Thao

Died on: January 27, 2013

place of death: Ho Chi Minh City

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Considered by many as one of Vietnam's most brilliant songwriters, Phạm Duy was born in Hanoi, and nurtured in the care of his eldest brother from a very young age. The youngest of five children in the household, this songwriter pursued his education in music from institutes in Vietnam and France. His songs documented the tempestuous political scenario of his homeland, Vietnam, during French occupation as well as after independence. This caused the communist regime of the country to ban his songs that mostly opposed the government. For a span of thirty years, this exceptional writer lived in exile in the United States, continuing to write songs with the same nationalist fervour. Even though his songs were restricted from being performed in Vietnam, they gained recognition in other parts of the world. When he finally returned to Vietnam, the government lifted all bans previously imposed, and the citizens of the country celebrated the songwriter's return. Despite major public recognition, there were a few who criticized Duy's decision to return. Composers Nguyễn Lưu and Tuyên in particular condemn the fact that though his songs are anti-communist in tone, his hypocrisy is forgiven by the government and media. Yet, despite being away for thirty long years, the songwriter’s death was mourned by majority in the country, owing to his brilliant lyrics that celebrated the Vietnamese nationalist sentiment.

Childhood & Early Life
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  • In 1943-44, Duy began singing as a part of the 'Duc Huy' musical group. During that decade, the French had occupied Vietnam, and the young singer joined a musical team for the nationalist organization 'Việt Minh'. Phạm and fellow musician Văn Cao wrote their earliest songs together, while serving for the organization.
  • After leaving 'Việt Minh', he was taught music by Robert Lopez during 1954-55, in France. He also attended the 'Institut de Musicologie' in Paris, even though he wasn't registered to the school. He returned to Vietnam and settled in the city of Saigon, where his songs were prohibited from being released or performed.
  • In 1975, Saigon was seized by the 'People’s Army of Vietnam' and 'Việt Cộng', marking the end of the 'Vietnam War' and start of the Communist government. Phạm travelled to California, United States, with his family. His songs were "reactionary", according to composer Đỗ Nhuận, and thus were not allowed to be sung in Vietnam.
  • Across the world, however, Duy's songs became quite popular and they gradually gained recognition even in Vietnam. Throughout his life, he wrote more than a thousand songs that could be categorized into 'Dân Ca' ('Folk Songs'), 'Tâm Ca' ('Heart Songs'), 'Đạo Ca' ('Spiritual Songs') and 'tị nạn ca' ('Refugees Songs'), amongst others.
  • In 2000, this prolific songwriter returned to his homeland for a brief stay, and settled permanently in Vietnam five years later. During the same period, the communist government that had initially opposed his creations, started doing away with all bans on his works.
  • Duy had written masterpieces like 'Tình Ca', ‘Cô Hái Mơ’, ‘Chỉ Chừng Đó Thôi’, ‘Thuyền Viễn Xứ’, ‘Tôi Còn Yêu Tôi Cứ Yêu’, and had translated popular foreign language songs like ‘Khi Xưa Ta Bé’ (‘Bang Bang’) into Vietnamese.
  • Phạm Duy also wrote 'Hồi Ký Phạm Duy', which is his autobiography, written in 4 volumes.
Major Works
  • This song writer's most popular work is 'Tình Ca', written in 1953, which speaks about patriotism. Once the ban on the song was lifted, a company purchased rights to the initial ten notes of the song for 100 million Vietnamese dollars.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Phạm Duy got married to singer Thái Hằng, and the couple were blessed with eight children. All of them made a name for themselves in the music industry, including sons Duy Quang, Duy Cường, and daughters Thái Hiền and Thái Thảo.
  • The famous songwriter succumbed to gout as well as heart and liver ailments in Ho Chi Minh City, on January 27, 2013. A concert was organized as a tribute to him, and the proceeds were gifted to the family.
  • He was cremated in the ‘Binh Duong Park Cemetery’, his demise being lamented by famous singer Anh Tuyet and distinguished filmmaker Đặng Nhật Minh.
  • The brilliant songwriter has been compared to celebrated Vietnamese poets like Nguyễn Du, Hồ Xuân Hương, and Xuân Diệu, by the director of ‘Hoa Sen University’, Professor Vu Duc Vuong. Trần Văn Khê, famous music scholar, and Dương Trung Quốc, esteemed historian are some of those people who strongly campaigned for permission to release some of Phạm's songs, especially albums like 'Con đường cái quan' ('The Mandarin Road') and 'Mẹ Việt Nam' ('Mother Vietnam').

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