Jacintha Abisheganaden



Jacintha Abisheganaden (b. 3 October 1957, Singapore–) is an accomplished Singapore actress, entertainer and jazz singer. The daughter of musician and Cultural Medallion recipient Alex Abisheganaden, Jacintha’s early training in music stood her in good stead for a career in entertainment.1 During her illustrious career, she has performed in numerous stage plays and musicals,2 represented Singapore in international singing competitions,3 had her own television and radio shows4 as well as recorded music. In the1990s, Jacintha diversified into jazz music and gained international recognition for her unique interpretations of jazz classics.5

Early life and education
Jacintha was born to a musical family. Her father Alex Abisheganaden is a well-known musician who specialises in the guitar, while her mother Aileen Wong sings and plays the piano. Jacintha and her brother Peter were constantly exposed to music while growing up. Her father used to play records during mealtimes, and took them to watch concerts and musicals. Jacintha also took formal lessons in classical piano and singing, while Peter learnt the violin.6

In the 1970s, Jacintha joined the Singapore Youth Choir and became friends with her future collaborator and second husband, Dick Lee. In his memoir, Dick Lee: The Adventures of the Mad Chinaman, Lee recalled that he first became acquainted with Jacintha when he was 16. He wrote that the two “hit it off from the start” and eventually started making music together. Lee also commented that Jacintha’s voice and his music were “a perfect fit”.7

By this time, Jacintha had begun branching out from classical music. In 1976, she formed a singing group known as Vintage with two friends – Lim Siauw Chong and his sister Cheng Hui – and took part in Radio and Television Singapore’s Talentime. The trio were awarded full marks by the judges and emerged the winner in the singing competition.8

Despite the win, Jacintha did not immediately turn to music as a profession. Instead, she studied English at the University of Singapore and graduated with honours. After graduation she worked for several years as a journalist for the now-defunct New Nation newspaper and later joined The Straits Times.9

Singer and recording artist
The pull of music, however, remained strong. Having established a reputation as a formidable singer, Jacintha was called upon to represent Singapore as a soloist in international competitions such as the Wataboshi Song Festival held in Japan in 1981, and the First International Song Festival held in Los Angeles, United States, in 1982.10

In 1983, Jacintha made her recording debut with Silence – an album of pop, dance and jazz songs – released by WEA. The album was produced by Lee, who also wrote nine of the 10 tracks on the album.11 In a newspaper interview, Jacintha admitted that the album was a risk, but one that was worth taking. “I discovered a totally whole new voice and it suits the album”, she said.12  Lee recalled that the album was well received. “Silence became a local hit. It received plenty of airplay and was well supported by the college crowd,” he wrote in his memoir.13 A review in the erstwhile newspaper Singapore Monitor also called it “the finest local English recording to date”.14

The album was not the only highlight in Jacintha’s life that year: she married American lawyer David Scheffer and relocated to the United States.15 Unfortunately, the marriage ended three years later and Jacintha returned to Singapore.16

In 1987, Jacintha released her second album titled Tropicana, which was inspired by Latin American dances such as the cha cha, rhumba and salsa. She wrote the lyrics for the title song, while Lee composed the music.17 In the same year, Jacintha represented Singapore at the ASEAN Pop Song Festival held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and bagged the best performer prize.18

Jacintha’s third album, Drama Mama, was released in 1991 in Japan. By this time, Jacintha had left WEA and signed on with Wave, a Japanese music label.19

Actor and entertainer
Alongside her music, Jacintha had an active career on the Singapore stage, acting in many amateur drama productions with theatre groups like Sceneshifters and the Experimental Theatre Club.20 In 1981, she clinched the best female performer (English category) award at the Drama Festival for playing the titular role in Nurse Angamuthu’s Romance.21

Four years later, in 1985, Jacintha became a founding member of Singapore’s first professional English-language theatre company, TheatreWorks.22 Subsequently, she went go on to perform in a number of groundbreaking local plays and musicals such as Dick Lee’s Beauty World (1988),23 Fried Rice Paradise (1991)24 and pop operetta Nagraland (1992).25 She married her long-time collaborator Lee in 1992, but they divorced in 1997.26

In 1993, Jacintha won the part of the “glamour cat”, Grizabella, who sings signature song “Memory”, in the Southeast Asian tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats.27 Her casting was regarded as a coup of sorts, as few Singaporean performers had been able to break into international theatre productions. Jacintha’s performance drew mixed reviews, however, with Straits Times reviewer Hannah Pandian commenting that her voice and stage presence were inconsistent.28 Several members of the public wrote to the newspaper to express differing opinions, pointing out that the audience had given her a standing ovation.29

By the 1990s, Jacintha had added radio and television work to her already impressive résumé. In 1991, she developed and hosted the radio show Over the Top Hour, which was nominated for an Asian Broadcasting Union award. She also hosted her own 18-episode television programme, Mum’s Not Cooking, in 1993.30 Subsequently, Jacintha signed on as a full-time artist with then Television Corporation of Singapore (now MediaCorp) and starred in the sitcom, My Grandson, the Doctor, in 1996.31

After a long hiatus, Abisheganaden returned to television in 2006 as a judge on the second season of performing competition Singapore Idol. She was chosen for the role because of her experience as a veteran performer who was knowledgeable about the local music scene.32 Although she was criticised by netizens for providing “unoriginal” and “out of point” comments on the show, Jacintha was unfazed by the criticisms and took them all in her stride.33

Jazz career
In 1998, Jacintha married her third husband, actor and journalist Koh Boon Pin, and became pregnant with her first child. That same year, she released her first jazz album, Here’s to Ben: A Vocal Tribute to Ben Webster.34 In an interview with website Jazz Review, Jacintha revealed that she had always wanted to sing jazz. Explaining why she had yet to release a jazz album up to that point, she said, “But you’re young and you can sing anything, so you diversify. You try everything, but you try to sing it in the spirit of jazz.”35

Jacintha’s decision to become a jazz recording artist came about when her friend, actor Lim Kay Tong, recommended her to music producer Ying Tan in the mid-1990s.36 Tan eventually produced all of Jacintha’s jazz albums under his label, Groove Note.37

In an interview with Esplanade: The Arts Magazine in 2000, Jacintha confirmed that her career trajectory was focused on jazz. “I could dabble… from painting to cooking, but it’s one thing to multi-task and another to be multi-talented. From here, I’d like to do more jazz, have a long recording career,” she said.38

It was through her jazz albums that Jacintha’s music found an international audience. Her voice has been described as “nourishing – like food” by Japanese world-music singer Sandii Suzuki.39 Reviewer on website Audiophile Audition John Henry compared Jacintha to the jazz singers of the 1950s such as Peggy Lee, as she “works very close to the mike for a sexy and intimate sound”.40

Local musician and radio DJ Chris Ho said that Jacintha’s popularity grew in tandem with jazz divas such as Diana Krall and Cassandra Wilson, but “she was really in that style long before, and to her credit, she has led the wave of new Singapore jazz divas”.41

When asked about her approach to singing, Jacintha said that she was concerned with telling stories: “When I sing standards I want the world of that song to be fully known to me. If I inhabit it, the story I’m trying to tell and all the possible stories under that tells [sic] itself.” Her musical influences are diverse and include singers such as Barbara Streisand, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Sérgio Mendes, Karen Carpenter and Stacey Kent.42

Awards
1976: Talentime winner, Radio and Television Singapore (as part of the group Vintage).43
1981: Best female performer (English category), Drama Festival.44
1987: Best performer, ASEAN Pop Song Festival, Kuala Lumpur.45

Albums46
1983: Silence (WEA).
1987: Tropicana (WEA).
1991: Drama Mama (Wave).
1997: Jacintha – My Life (Springroll Creative Entertainment).
1999: Here’s to Ben: A Vocal Tribute to Ben Webster (Groove Note).
2000: Autumn Leaves: The Songs of Johnny Mercer (Groove Note)
2002: Lush Life (Groove Note).
2003: Jacintha Is Her Name (Groove Note).
2004: The Girl from Bossa Nova (Groove Note).
2005: Love Flows Like a River (Mandarin, Groove Note).
2007: Jacintha Goes to Hollywood (Groove Note).



Author

Stephanie Ho



References
1. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1994, May 4). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/11]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
2. Koh, B. P. (2013). From identity to mondialisation: Theatreworks 25. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 792.095957 FRO)
3. Ong, C. (1987, April 19). Jacintha wins Asean pop song contest. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Teo, P. L. (2005, September 12). Ja rules. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Sudo, C. (2011, January 29). Jazz artist interview: Jacintha. Jazz Review. Retrieved from Jazz Review website: http://www.jazzreview.com/jazz-artist-interviews/jacintha.html
6. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/11, p. 102]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. Lee, D. (2011). Dick Lee: The Adventures of the Mad Chinaman. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, p. 98. (Call no.: RSING 782.14092 LEE)
8. The Vintage gets full marks from all judges. (1976, October 29). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Teo, P. L. (2005, September 12). Ja rules. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Lee, D. (1992). Welcome to Nagraland. Singapore: Grenadier Press, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING q782.12095957 LEE)
11. Lim, S. (1983, September 20). Jacintha’s ‘Silence’ is surely golden. Singapore Monitor, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. D’Rose, P. (1983, September 29). Jacintha on new ground. Singapore Monitor, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Lee, D. (2011). Dick Lee: The adventures of the Mad Chinaman. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, p. 182. (Call no.: RSING 782.14092 LEE)
14. Lim, S. (1983, September 20). Jacintha’s ‘Silence’ is surely golden. Singapore Monitor, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. D’Rose, P. (1983, September 29). Jacintha on new ground. Singapore Monitor, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Lim, G. (2008, December 1). Jacintha & hubby split up. The New Paper, p 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Ho, C. (1987, May 1). Ja can cha-cha but music’s off. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Ong, C. (1987, April 19). Jacintha wins Asean pop song contest. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, D. (1992). Welcome to Nagraland. Singapore: Grenadier Press, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING q782.12095957 LEE)
19. Maizurah vs Jacintha. (1991, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Koh, B. P. (2013). From identity to mondialisation: Theatreworks 25. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 792.095957 FRO)
21. Best female performer award for Jacintha. (1981, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Koh, B. P. (2013). From identity to mondialisation: Theatreworks 25. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 792.095957 FRO)
23. Yeo, R. (1988, July 3). Something to celebrate – A landmark musical. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Goh, J. (1991, March 4). Second musical set to hit the stage next month. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Two couples at work. (1992, August 7). The Straits Times, p. 2; Story of Nagraland. (1992, August 7). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Entertainers Dick Lee and Jacintha divorce. (1997, January 16). The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Tay, M. (1993, November 7). Once more with feline. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Pandian, H. (1993, November 22). Near purrfection from audacious ‘cats’. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Chee, S. L. (1993, November 26). Her voice broke but it worked. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. The Really Useful Company presents the Cameron Mackintosh and the Really Useful Company production of Cats. (1993). Singapore: Playbill. (Call no.: RSING 782.14 REA)
31. Teo, P. L. (2005, September 12). Ja rules. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Ng, H. H. (2006, January 12). Jazzed-up Singapore Idol. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Lee, S. Y. (2006, June 22). Judging the Idol judge. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Lim, R. (1998, August 19). And baby makes three. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Sudo, C. (2011, January 29). Jazz artist interview: Jacintha. Jazz Review. Retrieved from Jazz Review website: http://www.jazzreview.com/jazz-artist-interviews/jacintha.html
36. Sudo, C. (2011, January 29). Jazz artist interview: Jacintha. Jazz Review. Retrieved from Jazz Review website: http://www.jazzreview.com/jazz-artist-interviews/jacintha.html
37. Lee, S. (2004, August 7). Ja will sing in Mandarin next. The Straits Times, p 3; Lim, C. (2007, September 7). Ja’s typical mellow jazz style returns. The Business Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Tan, L. M. (2000, July–August). One more for the road. In Esplanade: The Arts Magazine. Singapore: Arts Centre Co. Ltd, p. 80. (Call no.: RSING 791.095957 E)
39. Tom, K., & Chow, C. (2005, January 23). Jazz right. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Henry, J. (2007, August 4). Jacintha goes to Hollywood. Audiophile Audition. Retrieved from Audiophile Audition website: http://audaud.com/2007/08/jacintha-goes-to-hollywood-groove-note
41. Cheah, P. (2003, August 2). Jacintha finds an audiophile niche. Billboard, 115(31), AP-2. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles : Billboard Publication. (Call no.: RART 780.05 BN)
42. Sudo, C. (2011, January 29). Jazz artist interview: Jacintha. Jazz Review. Retrieved from Jazz Review website: http://www.jazzreview.com/jazz-artist-interviews/jacintha.html; Henderson, A. (n.d.). Jacintha: Biography. AllMusic. Retrieved from All Music website: http://www.allmusic.com/artist/jacintha-mn0000120763/biography
43. The Vintage gets full marks from all judges. (1976, October 29). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Best female performer award for Jacintha. (1981, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Ong, C. (1987, April 19). Jacintha wins Asean pop song contest. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Lim, S. (1983, September 20). Jacintha’s ‘Silence’ is surely golden. Singapore Monitor, p. 20; Ho, C. (1987, May 1). Ja can cha-cha but music’s off. The Straits Times, p. 5; Maizurah vs Jacintha. (1991, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Jacintha – My Life [Compact disc]. (1997). Springroll Creative Entertainment Agency Pte. Ltd. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Henderson, A. (n.d.). Jacintha: Biography. AllMusic. Retrieved from All Music website: http://www.allmusic.com/artist/jacintha-mn0000120763/biography



The information in this article is valid as at 17 February 2015 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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Arts>>Performing Arts>>Music
Arts personalities