Susan Lim and The Crescendos

by Tan, Joanna Hwang Soo

The Crescendos were a popular Singapore band of the 1960s. Formed in 1961, the pop band comprised John Chee, Leslie Chia and Raymond Ho, and vocalist Susan Lim joined the following year. It became the first Singapore band to be signed on by an international record label. The band scored several hits with songs such as “Mr Twister and “The Boy Next Door. The Crescendos disbanded in 1966 and never regrouped after the death of lead singer Lim in 1970.

Early years
The Crescendos started out as a singing group comprising Chee, Chia and Ho from St Patrick’s School.1 In 1961, they took part in Radio Singapore Talentime, a programme for finding new singers and musicians.2 For the Talentime contest the following year, the group decided to add a female lead vocalist, Lim. A friend of Chia’s sister, Lim was then a student at Raffles Girls’ School.3 The band signed a contract with record company Philips International, even before reaching the competition finals, becoming the first Singapore band ever to sign on with an international record label.4

The band was later joined by Israel Lim on bass guitar and Peter Soh on drums, who enabled the band to perform as an electric band. It was previously a vocal quartet with only acoustic guitar accompaniment and had to depend on other bands for musical backing.5

In 1963, the band released its first single – a cover of Don Conway’s “Mr Twister”, with a cover of Neil Sedaka’s “Frankie” on the flipside.The single was an instant hit and sold more than 10,000 copies in Malaysia, placing it on the Philips World Top 10 list and locally outselling even American pop singer Connie Francis’s version of the song.7

The band’s next single was an original composition, “The Boy Next Door, which also entered the Philips International Top 10 list in July 1964 at second place.8

Other memorable songs followed, mostly covers like “Everybody Loves A Lover, “Silver Threads and Golden Needles and “Has Anybody Seen My Boyfriend”. The band also demonstrated its versatility, by recording Malay songs such as “Lenggang Kangkong”, Waktu Fajar” and the traditional Indonesian favourite “Bengawan Solo.9

In 1966, at the height of their popularity, the band decided to disband, because Lim left the band to study political science and sociology at the University of Singapore (later renamed National University of Singapore).10 Lim did have one further recording in 1968 – with The Thunderbirds, another popular local band.11

In 1994, recording company PolyGram issued a compilation of Crescendos music titled The Complete Crescendos.12 In 2002, another major label, Universal Music, released Treasures From The Past, a compilation featuring The Crescendos as one of the four most prominent bands of the 1960s in Singapore.13

Death of Susan Lim
In 1970, the 22-year-old Lim was engaged to John Chan York Lee. After completing her final university examinations, Lim went on a holiday to Malaysia with her fiancé and some of his friends and relatives. On 8 February 1970, while at a beach in Kemaman, Trengganu, Lim was swept away by strong waves despite attempts by her fiancé and others to save her. Lim’s body was never found.14 Shortly after the accident, the National University of Singapore awarded Lim a Bachelor of Arts honours degree in absentia.15

Unlike other bands of the 1960s that reunited over the years for nostalgia and charity events, the Crescendos never regrouped, as they felt that Lim could not be replaced.16

Joanna Tan Hwang Soo

1. Joseph C. Pereira, [GHS(1] Apache over Singapore: The Story of Singapore Sixties Music, vol. 1. (Singapore: Select Pub, 2011), 7. (Call no. RSING 781.64095957 PER)
2. “Remarkable Crescendos at Their Peak,” New Paper, 23 November 1994, 35; “He Won Loudest Cheers,[GHS(2] ” Straits Times, 19 February 1949, 7; “Music Scene Started with Talentime,Straits Times, 16 October 1993, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Joseph C. Pereira, Apache over Singapore; “1965: Those Were the Days,” Straits Times, 6 July 1990, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Crescendos Make First Record,” Radio Weekly 4, no. 8, 18 February 1963, 1. (Microfilm no.[GHS(3]  NL 14881)
5. Pereira, Apache over Singapore.
6. Pereira, Apache over Singapore, 7.
7. “The Crescendos Find a Place in Top Ten,” Straits Times, 30 September 1963, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Pereira, Apache over Singapore, 8.
9. Pereira, Apache over Singapore, 9.
10. Serene Goh, “Crescendos Singer’s Memory Still Lives On,” Straits Times, 6 January 1995, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Pereira, “Apache over Singapore, 10.
12. Dave Ang, “Back to the ’60s,” New Paper, 23 November 1994, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Tommy Wee, “That Thing They Do!Straits Times, 8 November 2002, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Singer Susan Missing at Sea,” Straits Times, 9 February 1970, 1; “Requiem for Singer Susan Lim,” Straits Times, 3 May 1970, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Degree in Absentia for Susan Lim,” Straits Times, 23 April 1970, 8; “Requiem for Singer Susan Lim.” (From NewspaperSG)
16. Serene Goh, “Crescendos Singer’s Memory Still Lives On.”

Further resources
Lim Teck Kheng, Linda Na and Salina Abdullah, 100 Greatest Singapore 60s, Universal Music Pte Ltd, 2009, 5 compact discs. (Call no. RSING 782.42164 ONE pt. 5CDs)

Naomi and the Boys et al., Singapore 60’s, Vol. 1: Treasures from the Past, Universal Music Pte Ltd, 2002, 4 compact discs. (Call no. RSING 782.42163 SIN)

The information in this article is valid as of October 2021 and correct as far as we are able to 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.

Popular music--Singapore
Women singers--Singapore--Biography
Bands (Music)--Singapore