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"Retirement is not really part of the worklife of a creative person," says Dick Lee.

Nearly 60, and still going strong

A concert series saluting Singapore's best musicians kicks off with Dick Lee.
May 27, 2016 5:50 AM

IS there anything that musician Dick Lee hasn't done? He's topped charts, designed clothes, written plays, held a solo art exhibition and directed the last two National Day Parade editions. Later this year, he'll also announce his debut as a filmmaker.

But for now, as his 60th birthday in August approaches, he's planning to celebrate it on stage with a concert that looks back at his life in music and entertainment. The concert will take the audience from his modest beginnings as a teenage contestant on Rediffusion Talentime right up to his present-day success.

The concert kicks off The ICON series, a new platform set up by the Sing50 Fund to salute the best musicians of Singapore. The Sing50 Fund originated from last year's Sing50 mega concert organised by The Business Times and The Straits Times to celebrate the country's 50th birthday. The fund aims to preserve and celebrate Singapore's music heritage by bringing it to schools and the wider community.

Lee says: "I think the effort to recognise and foster pride in Singapore music is wonderful . . . What's even more wonderful is that the fund aims to reach out to students, giving Singapore musicians a chance to inspire the next generation of artists."

Come Aug 19, Lee will take to The Star Theatre stage to sing the songs that mark the milestones of his career, including those from his 1974 debut album Life Story, his platinum-selling regional breakthrough The Mad Chinaman and the hit musicals such as Fried Rice Paradise and Beauty World. He will also sing the songs produced through his collaborations with Hong Kong stars such as Jackie Cheung and Sandy Lam, as well as his popular National Day songs Home and Our Singapore.

Lee says: "It's going to be a big show with a big band and some guest stars. The concert is supposed to be 90 minutes long, but if you know me, I always end up talking to the audience a lot and stretching the show to two hours."

Lee says that one theme connecting all the different phases of his career is "the search for my identity". He adds: "Whether I am singing in Japan or composing musicals, I'm always thinking what it means to be Singaporean."

Asked if he intends to take a break from the industry as he approaches 60, he says: "I keep wanting to take time off, but new opportunities keep presenting themselves. In my world, you learn to be grateful for opportunities and take them when they appear. And when they don't appear, you learn to make opportunities for yourself."

He's currently creating an oratorio for an orchestra, choir and two vocalists. The piece, commissioned by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, will debut later this year. He's also penning a piece for the VOCO Singapore Ladies Choir.

"Retirement is not really part of the worklife of a creative person. Some artists drop out of the scene early because they get tired of trying to sustain their careers. But I learnt from a young age to keep working and reinventing myself, to stay connected to new music and technologies, to stay in touch with people. So for me, it never gets tiring because the act of reinventing myself is exciting."

Edmund Cheng, chairman of the Sing50 Fund, says: "We are honoured to have Lee kick off the Icon Series concert. Lee is one of Singapore's best-known music personalties whose career spans more than 40 years. He is among the first to champion the inclusion of Asian elements in his music to create the flavour of Singapore pop . . . He brought prominence to Singapore music beyond our nation to much of Asia."

Asked if there'll be a birthday cake on stage to celebrate his 60th year, Lee jokes: "I didn't think about it, but now that you mention it, I'll ask the organisers. I'll say the press suggested it."

The ICON Series concert featuring Dick Lee plays at The Star Theatre on Aug 19 at 7.30pm. Tickets from S$48 to S$108 from Sistic. The series is co-produced by The RICE Company, and Music & Movement.