Yu-li: Fame, family and fulfilment

In any discussion on Singapore’s Mandarin popular culture of the 1960s and 70s, an iconic name that cannot be left out of the conversation is Lucy Phua, or Miss Yu-Li (尤丽) as she is widely known.

One of the most dazzling stars in the entertainment scene during that era, she had released 33 albums comprising over 100 songs, appeared in countless variety shows around the region, including Hong Kong’s famous TV programme《欢乐今宵》(Enjoy Yourself Tonight), and shared the stage with comedic legends Wang Sha and Ye Fong.

Lucy Phua was one of Singapore’s most famous singers in the 1970s, recording over 30 albums in her music career.

Today, after more than 40 years since stepping away from the media spotlight, Lucy, 79, enjoys a simple but vibrant lifestyle, often being out and about around her neighbourhood in the heart of Bendemeer. Incidentally, she is also a regular member of LB AAC @ Bendemeer 32, participating in the various programmes organised at the centre. 

While the march of time may have left lines upon her countenance and bestowed a hue of silver upon her cropped locks, Lucy’s smile still exudes a radiance that had endeared herself to the masses back then. Meeting up with the former songstress at her abode, she brings out, in impeccable condition, original vinyl records of all her albums, along with a few folders filled with newspaper clippings, event pamphlets, advertisements and photos featuring herself over the course of her illustrious music career.

Signed as a singer with Polar Bear Record, Lucy’s debut album became an immediate success.

What inspired Lucy to embark on this unconventional journey of show business? Though she was English educated, completing her ‘O’ Levels at Tanjong Katong Girls’ School, she had loved singing Chinese songs since young, something that didn’t go unnoticed by her mother.

“My mum said that I liked singing so much, so she wrote in to Polar Bear Record company,” she explains. “So they asked for an audition. I went, sang two songs, and passed.”

Hence Lucy, then in her early 20s, signed for Polar Bear Record, as well as Radio and Television Singapore (RTS) as an artiste. With her captivating vocals, her debut album, released in 1969 titled《知道不知道》(Do You Know), launched her into instant stardom. Lucy recalls, I was paid only $240 to record my first album. But after singing for one year, it (the remuneration for recording the subsequent album) increased to $1,000!

For the next several years, Lucy would find herself in high demand, frequently travelling across places such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong with her team to perform on many different stages, shows and TV productions. Despite a hectic schedule, it was a period she looks back fondly upon. We were very happy, just like a family. Night time, we would prepare for the singing. Day time, we would rehearse and go shopping!

Lucy was often booked to perform at concerts and shows across the region.

Unfortunately, Lucy’s glittering career was forced to come to a halt when her mother suffered a stroke. I had to take care of her, so I needed to give up my job,” Lucy says. Moreover, her desire to look after her young son and daughter also meant that she could no longer carry on in the entertainment circle. And just like how she seemingly came from nowhere into prominence, she unexpectedly walked away from it all for good, sacrificing the public adoration she was enjoying for the sake of her family who needed her more.

Lucy would go on to work as a kindergarten teacher, a position she held for over a decade until her early retirement. Although a stark contrast to her previous career, educating and interacting with little children was also something she found fulfilment in. Having been through both the exhilarating heights of fame and the relative ordinariness of daily life, what is truly important to her?

“Health,” Lucy replies after a quick thought. “Being healthy makes me happy.”

Perhaps it is this emphasis on keeping healthy that motivated Lucy to respond to a flyer inviting her to join LB AAC @ Bendemeer 32 about two years ago. Ever since, she has been a mainstay and a great advocate for many of the centre’s active ageing programmes. She cites the morning physical exercises as her favourite activity, while having plenty of enthusiasm for art & craft as well as outings with fellow seniors.

At 79, Lucy (second from right) enjoys activities such as art & craft with fellow seniors at LB AAC @ Bendemeer 32.
"Being healthy makes me happy," Lucy says.

Besides getting involved at the AAC, Lucy also looks forward to her two children and grandson visiting her every Saturday, when she will cook for the family at home or dine out together. And in her personal time, she has found a hobby in crafting accessories like bracelets and necklaces out of beads.

As Lucy flips through the folders showcasing clippings of her at the peak of her popularity, one can’t help but ask, does she ever miss this life of glitz and glamour?

“This life? What should I say? We can’t control our age. 往事只能回味 (You can only reminiscence the past),” she quips.

Lucy relives the precious memories from her colourful entertainment career.

Gratefully, it is a past that has given her wonderful experiences, and we wish her many more to come in her golden years.

Though it may have been decades since Lucy last took to the stage, her beautiful voice and music has been immortalized, resonating with her long-time fans even till today. Several of her songs have found their way to the digital sphere on social media, and online listeners continue to comment on their fond memories of Miss Yu-Li. Does she have anything to say to them? 

Lucy responds with a smile, “I’m just grateful for their love, I should thank them for still remembering me. Yu-Li is still around and kicking; I’m ok and healthy!”

We hope that these stories would inspire you to reach out and touch the lives of others.

If you would like to share your thoughts on these stories, please feel free to email us at cp@lb.org.sg

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