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[HOT TRACK]Gone but not forgotten

Dec 10,2001
He was the Elvis of Korean trot - karaoke-like music best loved by older Koreans. Bae Ho, a handsome ppong-jjak, or trot, singer who died at 29 from a kidney disease, was one of the most talented performers to emerge on the peninsula in the 1960s.

The son of Bae Gook-min, a leader of the national independence movement, Bae made his debut at the age of 21, and released his first album, "Bae Ho and His Band," a year later. He recorded numerous hit songs, which made him wildly popular.

During his eight-year career, Bae recorded 15 albums, amounting to some 300 songs, including two Christmas albums (an innovative concept for the time) and sound tracks for several popular, sentimental films such as "In My Dad's Arms" and "The Rainy Myeongdong Street."

Twenty years after his death, some of Bae's songs, such as "The Misty Jangchung-dong Park" and "Returning to Samgak-ji" are still sung by every middle-aged Korean man in karaoke bars, including President Kim Dae-jung, who praised Bae Ho as his favorite musician. Major television programs about trot songs feature tributes to Bae Ho every November, commemorating his premature death.

It may be cliche, but there is something romantic about a reclusive young artist who only gets recognized as a genius after he dies tragically. Bae Ho is often remembered by his trot fans as the musician whose sentimental voice came directly from his own dramatic life.

The frequent poverty he faced early in his career while singing for nightclubs and his uncle's traveling band, his limited education (he only graduated from middle school), his inability to read music and his untimely death at the peak of his fame are all part of the musical legend that is Bae Ho.

One of his last singles was "Last Leaf," a melancholy tune about falling leaves. He sang the song while in the final stages of his illness, and the parallels between the song and his dying days is a typical example of what fuels the public's love of the singer.

"The Musician of Immortality: Bae Ho" is a retrospective of Bae Ho's recordings, soon to be released in a four-CD set by Jigu Record. It is divided into four themes - love, farewell, recollection and nostalgia - and it includes a brief introduction to the singer and the songs' lyrics. It also includes some poignant live performances and copies of the covers of his original albums, which feature photos of Bae dressed in fashionable retro outfits.



by Park Soo-mee