by Koh, Jaime
Considered one of Singapore’s foremost English artistes, singer-songwriter Corrinne May has enjoyed critical and popular success in Singapore and regionally. As at 2014, she has released five albums.1
Childhood and education
Corrinne was born in 1974 and named after her mother’s favourite song, “Corrinna, Corrinna”.2 Although her full name is Corrinne Foo May Ying, she decided to shorten it and use Corrinne May as her stage name. “It just felt a little bit smoother as a name and it felt like it rolled off the tongue,” Corrinne May revealed in an interview with The Straits Times in 2005.3
Corrinne’s musical training began with the classical piano when she was five years old. Subsequently, Corrinne studied at Raffles Girls’ School and then Raffles Junior College where she was part of the school choir. She also sang in an a cappella group called Punch, and was involved in the Catholic music ministry while she was an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS).4
In 1995, Corrinne graduated from NUS with a bachelor of arts degree in English literature. Shortly after, she left Singapore for Boston, United States, to study songwriting and film-scoring at the Berklee College of Music.5
Career in the United States
After graduating magna cum laude with a degree in songwriting from Berklee in 1998, Corrinne chose to stay on in the United States to try to become a professional musician.6 “I wanted to come back and work behind the scenes in music production. But, exposed to the possibility of making music my living, I thought I’d give it a shot,” she said in a 2007 interview.7
Corrinne chose to make her base in Los Angeles, the heart of the pop music industry. Establishing herself in a new country was not an easy task. “But, one needs to be away from the familiar in order to be challenged to grow in ways that one would not have been able to otherwise,” Corrinne told Today regarding her decision.8
“I had to build up a fanbase and find my audience in a city that I was still getting familiar with. So I went to every open mic that I could, checked out all the venues that were appropriate for singer-songwriters, met new musicians at these venues and said yes to every social event I was invited to,” she said about the early days of establishing herself as a musician in a foreign country. “It was all pretty exciting and a little bit tiring, but worth it,” she added.9
To supplement her income, Corrinne sang at coffeehouses, taught at kids’ music schools and played at church masses.10
Corrinne’s breakthrough came in 2000 when she won the Carole King and Carole Bayer Sager Songwriting Challenge in August that year.11 The online competition was organised by renowned songwriters and music producers Carole Bayer Sager, David Foster and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
Contestants had to submit a tune to accompany a set of lyrics written by King and Sager, with the winning entry used to record the song.12 Corrinne’s winning song, “If You Didn’t Love Me”, was featured on her debut album in 2001, with her receiving a co-writing credit with King and Sager.
With the win, things began to look up for Corrinne. Her debut album, Corrinne May, was launched in 2001;13 in the same year, she won the 2001 Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Award from a field of 600 contenders. Corrinne also clinched the 2001–2002 ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) Plus Popular Music Award.14 One of her songs, “Cast Your Spell”, was featured in the long-running American television soap drama, One Life to Live.15
Corrinne’s debut album was retitled Fly Away for release in Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, while her song “Journey” from the album was covered by Mandarin popstars Angela Zhang and Gigi Leung. The song achieved popular success after being showcased as the theme song for Taiwanese television drama Dolphin Bay Lovers.16
Corrinne’s second album, Safe in a Crazy World, topped the music charts in Singapore in 2005, and she played a series of sold-out concerts at the Esplanade Concert Hall and other recital venues. A Christmas album, The Gift, followed in 2006; Beautiful Seed, released in 2007, achieved platinum status in Singapore after selling more than 15,000 copies.17
Style and inspiration
Corrinne has been described as having a “velveteen voice and laidback talent”, while her “ethereal” sound has also earned her critical comparisons to singer Sarah McLachlan and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.18
Her earlier albums tended to feature folk songs accompanied with the piano, while she experimented with different sounds in later albums. For instance, Corrinne incorporated a string ensemble to create a warmer sound in her album Beautiful Seed.19 Safe in a Crazy World features an upbeat pop style, reflecting “that romantic period in [her] life” when she had just got married.20 In her 2012 album Crooked Lines, for which motherhood and her daughter Claire were major influences, Corrinne played the guitar and it features heavily in the album.21
Corrinne’s inspiration for her music comes from everyday life. She said her songs are based on stories she hears around her – from friends, the news and even from prayers. “In short, I can be inspired by almost anything,” she said.22 Corrinne keeps a journal in which she jots down ideas for songs.23
In 2010, Corrinne composed the National Day theme song. Titled “Song For Singapore”, Corrinne said the song reflected her feelings for her country, having lived in the United States since 1996. “I took out a journal and started writing my thoughts about Singapore, and what came out were feelings of gratitude for all the ways I’ve been nurtured,” she said in an interview with The Straits Times the same year.24
Although based in Los Angeles, Corrinne periodically returns to perform in Singapore. She is also an instructor for a songwriting course at Berklee Online.25
2001: Corrinne May (released as Fly Away in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan)
2005: Safe in a Crazy World
2006: The Gift
2007: Beautiful Seed
2012: Crooked Lines
2001: New Folk Award, Kerrville Folk Festival
2003: Best Contemporary Album, Just Plain Folks Music Awards
2007: Young Composer of the Year, COMPASS (Composers and Authors Society of Singapore); Wings of Excellence, COMPASS; Outstanding Young Alumni Award, National University of Singapore
1. Chen, S. (2012, April 6). Going the Mummy track. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from Corrinne May website: http://www.corrinnemay.com/biography
2. Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from Corrinne May website: http://www.corrinnemay.com/biography
3. Thomas, S. (2005, January 7). What May be. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Lee, S. (2002, June 14). Album of Caroles. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Tan, J. (2000, October 16). May makes sweet music. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from Corrinne May website: http://www.corrinnemay.com/biography.
6. Berklee College of Music. (n.d.). Corrinne May. Retrieved from Berklee Online website: http://online.berklee.edu/school/faculty-member?person_id=33692846
7. Lee, S. (2002, June 14). Album of Caroles. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. This is home, truly. (2007, December 19). Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
9. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2013, August 22). Foreign attraction. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
10. Tan, J. (2000, October 16). May makes sweet music. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Cheah, U.-H. (2002, April 12). Music to the ears. The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Tan, J. (2000, October 16). May makes sweet music. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Songwriting chat logs, Corrinne May. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.musesmuse.com/chatguest17.html
13. Cheah, U.-H. (2002, April 12). Music to the ears. The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Cheah, U.-H. (2002, April 12). Music to the ears. The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Artists. (n.d.). Retrieved from Pink Armchair Records website: http://www.pinkarmchair.com/artist.htm.
15. Tan, J. (2000, October 16). May makes sweet music. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from Corrine May website: http://www.corrinnemay.com/biography
17. Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from Corrine May website: http://www.corrinnemay.com/biography
18. Yeow, K. C. (2002, May 3). Sound bites. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Indie ingenue Corrinne May finds spirit and safety in a crazy world. (2005, June 4). Business Wire. Retrieved from Factiva.
19. Lim, C. (2007, August 3). Corrinne May launches new album with concert. The Business Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Lim, C. (2007, August 3). Corrinne May launches new album with concert. The Business Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Chen, S. (2012, April 6). Going the Mummy track. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Rasul, J. J. (2012, April 10). Influenced by motherhood. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Albums: Crooked Lines 2012. (n.d.). Retrieved from Corrinne May website: http://www.corrinnemay.com/albums.
22. Long bank queue inspires hit song. (2007, March 15). The New Paper, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Long bank queue inspires hit song. (2007, March 15). The New Paper, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Star struck. (2010, August 10). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
25. Berklee Online. Retrieved from http://online.berklee.edu/courses/songwriting-melody#!faculty
26. Long bank queue inspires hit song. (2007, March 15). The New Paper, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 29 January 2015 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.