[ENTERTAINMENT]Korean pop bids farewell to its father

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Korean pop bids farewell to its father

Long before lip-synching pretty-boy bands conquered the local music scene, Korean pop music offered depth and emotion. Instead of shallow whining and posturing, early pop stars sang about overcoming the difficulties of life. One of the best of those old-time singers was Hyun In, who died Saturday at 83.

Hyun was in the first generation of Korean pop singers, having started his career during the Japanese colonial period. His love of music led him to many different places. First he went to Japan to study at the famous Ueno Music School. Initially he wanted to be a classical singer, and turned his nose up at popular styles. He returned to Korea in 1942 and began work as a music instructor for the Seongbo operetta troupe. Then he relocated to Shanghai to work with another troupe.

Hyun stayed in China to avoid being drafted into the Japanese Army, and sang French chansons and Italian canzoni to make a living. He became fluent in Chinese and English. After Korea was liberated, he returned and gave performances for United Nations troops in Seoul, singing American pop songs. He then brought the first foreign influences to the local scene by adapting "Besame Mucho" to Korean.

Despite his early success with pop styles, he still wanted to become a classical music professor. "I'm a classical musical student and am not going to be a pop singer," he would tell people. But fate would steer him back to pop.

Before the Korean War (1950-1953), Hyun's star soared. "Sillaui Dalbam" ("Moonlit Night in Silla") was the first of his many big hits. He first sang the song in public in 1946 at the opening of a local film, "Jayu Buin" ("Madame Freedom"). His voice, a masculine bel canto spiced with vibrato finishes, won him tremendous popularity that night; he had to sing the song nine times because the audience kept calling for encores.

After the war, Hyun sang consoling songs like "Gutse-eora Gumsun-a" ("Keep Your Chin Up, Gumsun"), which was about the sorrows of a North Korean who couldn't return to her hometown.

Hyun sang about the hardships of the times about the war, separated families and the will to overcome adversity all themes the public could readily relate to.

Over the years he retained his image of a handsome but gentle guy whose songs touched on meaningful themes, and his performances were always enthusiastic.

In 1999, Hyun's fans and fellow pop singers paid him tribute by establishing a monument to his song "Moonlit Night in Silla" in Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient Silla Dynasty.

Hyun kept performing until that same year, 1999, when he fell ill with diabetes-related illnesses. He decided to withdraw from public life, and as his condition worsened he tried to keep it from being publicized, according to Gu Bong-seo, 77, an old-time comedian and friend of Hyun.

Kim Kwang-jin, another of Hyun's close friends, told the Joong- Ang Ilbo English Edition, "Hyun In was the man broad-minded and straightforward. He was the true icon of the beginning of Korean pop music."

by Chun Su-jin

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