The eldest sibling in Vietnam's most enduring singing family, Duy Quang was known for holding audiences enthralled as he boomed out the ballads of yesteryear, many penned by his father, Pham Duy, who knew how to tug at a listener's heart with songs about folk life.
So when news spread of Duy Quang's death, stores in Orange County's Little Saigon shuffled their displays to highlight his music. The performer, who had lung cancer, died Wednesday at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center. He was 61.
Duy Quang was popular in both Vietnam and America, and the family held court at a residential compound in Midway City, a small community close to Little Saigon. In 2005, both father and son returned to their homeland, where they continued to perform.
"He is beloved for what comes out of his mouth when he sings. His voice is velvet," said Ky Phat, Duy Quang's friend for more than 40 years. "It could still warm us."
Duy Quang was born April 11, 1951, in Hanoi and began singing when he was 5, teaching himself music theory, memorizing lyrics — and watching his older relatives rise to fame onstage. His father is one of Vietnam's best-known songwriters and his mother, Thai Hang, a much-admired songstress.
He made his first public appearance in a 1965 school variety show and two years later signed on as a bass player for a band that performed for American soldiers at a military base. By 1968, he was a regular act at U.S. clubs in South Vietnam.
He came of age during a tumultuous era in his country and amid the rock music scene. He told friends that he drew inspiration from the Beatles and the Shadows, another English band that emerged in the early 1960s.
In 1969, he launched the Dreamers, a band highlighting the talents of his siblings. They went on to do worldwide tours. In addition to singing, Duy Quang played the piano, guitar, drums and mandolin.
One of his most memorable gigs unfolded on Christmas Eve 1987 in Washington, D.C. That night, the singer faced a crowd of 1,800 — in a hall with a substandard sound system and without professional lighting, according to the Vietnamese Entertainment Network website. The audience, ignoring the promoter's offer to call it off, stayed until the end.
In the last decade, Duy Quang operated his own club in Vietnam, continuing a minstrel life. The decision by father and son to return to the country of their birth led to the Hanoi government easing restrictions on their music, winning them new and younger fans in postwar Vietnam.
"Through the years, I've always seen him caring and thoughtful of the people around him," said Ky Phat, who met the singer in Saigon when he booked him at his club, Queen Bee. "He is sentimental, like his music."
The twice-married Duy Quang recently flew back to Orange County to seek treatment for his cancer, which he did not address publicly. Last week, he talked about traveling to San Jose to perform but days later slipped into a coma.
In addition to his father, he is survived by three daughters; three brothers, Duy Minh, Duy Hung and Duy Cuong; and three sisters, Thai Thao, Thai Hien and Thai Hanh.