Dato' Sudirman bin Haji Arshad, DIMP (Posthumous), JMN, AMN, AMP (25 May 1954 – 22 February 1992) was a Malaysian singer and songwriter. He had started his career after winning the Bintang RTM on 11 August 1976. Also, he is the title holder of "Asia's No. 1 Performer" on 19 March 1989 as he won the '‘Asian Popular Music Awards'’ competition in Royal Albert Hall in London. He was known as the "Singing Lawyer", the "People's Singer", the "Patriot Singer" and the "Elvis Presley of Malaysia". He was also a composer, lawyer, writer (memoir and children books), cartoonist, entrepreneur and actor.
Sudirman was born on 25 May 1954 in Temerloh, Pahang as the youngest of seven children born to Hj Arshad Hassan and Ramlah Dahlan (the first stateswoman in Pahang during the 1950s). His passion for singing and entertaining started at a very young age, when his siblings and neighbours would happily let him entertain them.
Sudirman Arshad completed his secondary education in Sultan Abu Bakar School (SABS), Kuantan. After turning down a scholarship to further his studies in medicine, he studied law instead and received his degree from the University of Malaya. He was called to the bar and became a practising lawyer.
Possessing of a clear piercing tenor with a surprising breadth of range and dynamic control especially at the extreme high end, Sudirman's voice was instantly recognisable every time one of his songs are played in local radio or television. His ability to act through his voice is evident from songs such as "Bercanda di Pasiran Pantai", a Latin-flavoured duet with Anita Sarawak which displayed the sultry quality of his voice. His unique talents had helped him to win many local competitions from Bintang RTM Best Singer (1976) to Muzik-Muzik TV3 Best Performer and Berita Harian Popularity contest Most Popular Artist. He topped Malaysian, Brunei and Indonesia charts with songs such as "Merisik Khabar", "Milik Siapakah Gadis Ini" and "Salam Terakhir". Songwriters who have supported him in the past include S. Atan, Manan Ngah, Michael Veerapan and Syed Harun. Even today, his songs are popularly played especially during National Day and Eid-ul-Fitr.
Sudirman was also the first Malaysian singer to perform at The Paddock at the Hilton of Kuala Lumpur in 1983 and was the singing ambassador for companies such as Proton, Malaysia Airlines, Honda and honoured pioneer card member with Hong Leong Bank. He was known for his versatility and sang Malay, Indian and Chinese songs with outstanding choreography. He was even known for sketching portraits of his fans while singing.
Local musicians who have played for him include Alex Boon, Jay Jay (singer guitarist), Hillary, Ricky, Fauzi Marzuki, Michael Veerapan, Mac Chiew and Jenny Chin. Local women who have performed with him as his dancers (whom he refers to as "The Girls") include Joanne (Zainal Abidin's wife), supermodel Samantha Schubert and Linda Jasmine Hashim (now one of the leading dancing choreographer cum teacher in Malaysia's reality TV program show Akademi Fantasia).
Some Muslim fundamentalists and leftists detested his concert performances. Some even threatened and distributed warning pamphlets of "something would happen" during his Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Bangi concert to deter people from attending. The concert was postponed following protests from the UKM students union body, its academic staff association and the dean of the Islamic Studies faculty and six other student bodies. This incident was captured by Zainuddin Maidin (then journalist, now former Minister of Information) in his book "The Other Side of Mahathir". He narrated that the then-Prime Minister had called a few ministers to his residence to review the situation as the issue reflected Malaysia's position in terms of modernisation. The meeting led to the conclusion that the show had to be allowed to go on. Sudirman's fans turned up in force. He went about pleasing the crowd, crooning his hits. One campus resident said, "At last something alive has come here." The negativity surrounding the UKM incident was not long-lasting. Ironically, a couple of years after Sudirman's death in 1992, UKM held a Sudirman karaoke competition.
Sudirman produced an album for his favourite nephew, Razman Azrai, under Sudirman Productions. Also known as Atai, he had a couple of hit songs that topped the charts in 1985.
In April 1983, Sudirman sang a song for the late Puan Sri Saloma titled "Mama". When Sudirman approached her shortly before her death, Saloma expressed her disbelief with tears – that someone like Sudirman would still remember and make a song solely for her.
On 14 April 1986, Sudirman held an open-air concert on Chow Kit Road, which was the first time ever that a street concert drew a 100,000-strong crowd on a Monday night. It jammed the stretch of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Raja Muda to Jalan Raja Alang. Several fans fainted in the crowd, a few suffocated and were rushed to the hospital. A Malaysian English tabloid, The Star, wrote that "Kuala Lumpur came to a standstill and it had nothing to do with the recession, but with one man, Malaysia's top entertainer, an electrifying performance and most memorable night".
Sudirman's songs topped the charts with every new album that he released. There was a time when his song "Merisik Khabar" climbed up to the No. 1 position for two months while his second song "Milik Siapa Gadis Ini" from the same album came in second and stayed at the top for a few weeks after "Merisik Khabar".
In 1989, Sudirman won the title "Best Performer" at the Asia Music Award 1989 contest at the Royal Albert Hall, London. There, Leslie Cheung (Hong Kong Cantopop founding father), Anita Sarawak (Singapore's Best), Epo (Japan singer song writer), Kuh Ledesma (Philippines pop diva) and many other singers represented their respective countries including those from Thailand, Korea, China and Taiwan. Judges include Sinitta Renau Malone, mentor in Britain famous TV program, UK X factor and was dating Simon Cowell of American Idol. Other prominent judges include Chairman of BPI British Phonographic Industry Peter Jamieson, Dutch singer C.C. Catch and James Fisher Director of European Collection Body ASCAP
As Sudirman was known by many as "Malaysia's No 1 Entertainer", he was chosen to perform for Malaysia's SEA Games closing ceremony in 1989 and many others such as the opening ceremony of Sepak Takraw competition, Merdeka, New Year and other national functions. In most cases, he would use his own money to ensure a successful concert.
Sudirman Arshad also had a strong fanbase in Singapore. His concert there resulted in a large turnout at the Kallang National Stadium in August 1987. People came from all classes, races and ages. Kelvin Tan Look Siew, Director of Singapore Armed Forces Music & Drama company, said, "We wanted to bring down a prominent artist from the region and Sudirman's name automatically cropped up."
EMI London took him on to work together with Stock, Aitken & Waterman (British producer trio who took on Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Rick Astley) for the world market with a song titled "Love will Find a Way". Vic Lanza, manager of WHAM (duet of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley) pronounced Sudirman as the institution of Malaysian Music industry. He was brought to The Beatles famous Abbey Road Studios and recorded the album, but died soon afterwards.
Sudirman Arshad wrote his autobiography Dari Dalam Sudir in addition to some cartoons and weekly columns for magazines and some local newspapers such as Karangkraf.
One of his books for children titled "Taming Si Budak Pintar" was recognised the best by Mobil-Mabopa, a Mobil Oil book writing competition.
Moreover, he was also a journalist and columnist, who wrote on various serious issues. One journalist puts it, "It was quite difficult for us to concentrate on our job. The person sitting across the table during the meeting is a celebrity!" Those he interviewed include Tun Ghafar Baba.
Besides singing and writing, Sudirman also acted in a film called Kami, which was released in 1982. It was about two destitute orphans who find each other amidst the Kuala Lumpur street life. This film also spawned a track, "Pelangi Petang" (Malay meaning "Evening Rainbow"), which has been heralded as an iconic song by Malaysia's music industry.
Sudirman also successfully hosted Malaysia's TV gameshow "Keluarga Bahagia Singer". This program was sponsored by Singer Malaysia, a subsidiary of Singer Corporation (before it was taken over by Berjaya Group in 1989).
Sudirman was also well known for his charity work in which he helped invite veteran artists in the slots of his singing shows aside from giving them generous donations. Money charity for mosques and people in need was something he would do willingly. During his life, he had also adopted and brought up an Indian boy from a poor family and he would actively seek charity work through the Singers, Musicians and Composers Association of Malaysia (PAPITA).
Sudirman Arshad also became Malaysia's first successful singer-entrepreneur by promoting Malaysia's most famous carbonated drink Sudi, with business magazines and TV programs from Australia to Hong Kong featuring the drinks. Within six months, Sudi broke five per cent of the carbonated drink market in Malaysia. Later, Sudirman opened a franchise of Sudi Shoppe apparel and a Sudi restaurant.
He was Malaysia's first singer to be on the cover of Malaysian Business and Asian Business magazine. He had a business office atop the UBN Shangrila Tower and Sri Hartamas. He also served as Vice-President of PAPITA.
On 17 July 1991, Sudirman was admitted to Pusat Perubatan Tawakkal Kuala Lumpur (ICU) for 4 days. It was reported that he collapsed while singing at Butterworth, Penang. He died at 4 a.m. on 22 February 1992 at the age of 37 in his sister's (Datin Rudiah) house in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur after suffering from pneumonia for 7 months.
Thousands in Asia took part in his funeral procession. His remains were sent to his hometown in Temerloh, Pahang. Later, he was laid to rest at Chengal Muslim Cemetery, Temerloh, near the graves of his parents.
Sudirman Arshad was named 'Malaysia's Singing Ambassador' by the Malaysia Tourism Development Board (MTDC). He was the voice behind the MTDC (Malaysian Tourism Development Corp) tune, To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia which was composed by American Emmy, Grammy and Oscar nominated singer and songwriter Carol Connors. He was referred to as the 'Singing Dynamite' by Singaporean journalists. His singing brought him standing ovations in Australia (in Sydney and Melbourne), Japan, Kuwait and the United States (Hawaii). Simon Napier-Bell, the manager for George Michael's band Wham!, referred to Sudirman Arshad as the 'institution of Malaysian music industry'.
Sudirman's work was recognised by the industry when he was posthumously awarded an Anugerah Industri Muzik award and a street (Jalan Sudirman) was named after him in his hometown of Temerloh. PAPITA created an award especially categorised under his name, which to this date has yet to be won by anyone.
In the Malaysian Book of Records, Sudirman Arshad was given a posthumous award together with P Ramlee, Mokhtar Dahari, Tun Ghafar Baba and Ramasamy Letchemanah (Mighty Man).
On 26 July 2010, The National Choir paid a tribute to the late entertainer by organising a concert in conjunction with the KL Music Festival 2010, with an audience of about 1,000 present.
On 2014, Malaysia's 57th independence day's theme is "Disini Lahirnya Sebuah Cinta" (Malay meaning for "Here Is The Birth Of Love") which is the starting line for Sudirman's "Warisan" (Malay meaning for "Legacy")
On Nov 3 to 5, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre created musical tribute for Sudirman with 3 nights in a row, sold out having sponsors from JTI Malaysia, UEM Group, My Kasih Foundation, Yakult, Ambank and Nationwide Express. Yayasan Sime Darby gave out its first ever fund to create Sudirman Scholarship Fund for young talent.
Awards and recognitions
- Penghibur TV Terbaik, Anugerah Seri Angkasa, RTM 1978
- "Malaysia's Singing Ambassador" MTDC 1985 ("To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia")
- Persembahan Terbaik Anugerah Juara Lagu TV3, 1987
- Malaysia's Indian Music Award, 1987
- Ahli Mangku Negara by Yang di-Pertuan Agong 1988
- Penyanyi Lelaki Popular, Anugerah Bintang Popular Berita Harian 1989
- Asia's Number One Performer at the Salem Music Award London, 1989
- Malaysia Guinness Awards
- Ahli Mahkota Pahang by Sultan of Pahang, 1990
- Johan Mangku Negara by Yang di-Pertuan Agong, 1992
- No. 1 Malaysian singer (from New Straits Times)
- Darjah Indera Mahkota Pahang (DIMP), carrying the posthumous title of Dato' by Sultan of Pahang, 2009
- Balik Kampung voted as Malaysia's best song ever by readers of the Star Online, 2013
- song "Disini Lahirnya Sebuah Cinta" chosen for National Independence Day theme (Tema Merdeka Malaysia Ke-57), 2014
- Sudirman Scholarship Fund created by Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre on Nov 5 2016 with a musical tribute
- Teriring Doa 1976 (EP)
- Aku Penghiburmu (1978)
- Perasaan (1979)
- Anak Muda (1980)
- Lagu Anak Desa (1980)
- Lagu Dari Kota (1981)
- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (1981)
- Abadi (1982)
- Lagu Cinta (1982)
- Images (1983)
- Orang Baru (1984)
- Lagu Dari Sebuah Bilik (1984)
- Orang Kampung (1986)
- Kul it! (1986)
- Asia's No. 1 Performer (1989)
Among his other songs are Tanggal 31 Ogos and Tegakkan Bendera Kita.