Crown, Fung Hang and Wing Hang – Three Leading Independent Record Companies and the Golden Age of Cantopop in the 1970s and 1980s
York Lo: Crown, Fung Hang and Wing Hang – Three Leading Independent Record Companies and the Golden Age of Cantopop in the 1970s and 1980s
Crown Record, Fung Hang Record and Wing Hang Record are three leading independent record labels in Hong Kong. The first two traced its roots to Cantonese opera in the 1960s and all three helped to usher in the Golden Age of Cantopop in the 1970s and 1980s before giving way to the major multinational labels in the 1990s. Today, Crown has faded into history while Fung Hang and Wing Hang continue to capitalize on their rich libraries of music. Below are the profiles of the three firms in the chronological order of firm inception:
Lau Tung (first from left) and his wife (first from right) with Joseph Koo (second left) and his wife
Crown Records was founded in 1958 by Lau Tung (劉東) and his wife Tse Yuen-hen and was the largest Chinese-owned record company in Hong Kong in its time.
A sound engineer who played Chinese instruments himself, Lau invested millions in top of the line recording equipment to produce records with quality that rivaled the top international labels and earned the respect of musical talents while his wife was an astute businesswoman and tough negotiator who kept artists and business partners in line. Before starting Crown, Lau Tung ran Nam Sing Record (南聲唱片), a leading Cantonese record company in the 1950s financed by a Chinese American merchant which specialized in Cantonese opera and Western songs with Cantonese lyrics. Through his work with Cantonese opera, he befriended playwright Tong Tik-sang (唐滌生, 1917-1959) and as a result, Crown published many of his works such as the “Flower Princess” (帝女花) in 1961 featuring Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin and in 1989, Crown acquired Tong’s 34 works for HK$100,000 from his widow Cheng Mang-ha (鄭孟霞).
Lau also began working with the famous composer Joseph Koo (顧嘉煇) at Nam Sing on Cantonese songs, starting with Western songs with Cantonese lyrics such as the ones sung by Tang Kei-chan(鄧寄塵, who recorded albums for Crown in 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1987), Chow Chung (周聰, see article on Wo Shing Co) and Cheng Kwan-min (鄭君綿).
In the early 1970s, Crown Records was involved in areas outside of Chinese songs. In 1970-71, it produced 6 English albums featuring the popular girls group The Chopsticks who gained popularity singing on the new TVB channel.In January 1971, it released an album of 12 English songs with music composed and lyrics written by the advertising guru Charlie Ling. (KSDN, 1971-1-4) In 1972, the firm secured the distribution rights for the Japanese movie “I Want to Get Married” starring the popular actor MugaTakewaki . (KSEN, 1972-5-27)
Covers of two Cantonese opera albums produced by Crown. Left: Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin’s“The Flower Princess” in 1961; Right: Mak Bing-wing’s “Princess Man returning to Han” in 1958
In 1974, Crown produced the theme song for the popular TVB drama “The Fatal Irony” (啼笑姻緣) composed by longtime collaborator Joseph Koo and sung bySandra Lang (仙杜拉) from the Chopsticks. The song was a massive hit and is often credited as the song that brought about the emergence of Cantopop. After the success of “The Fatal Irony”, Crown became the de facto producer of theme songs for TVB dramas in the 1970s with many classics composed by Joseph Koo and sung by Liza Wang (汪明荃), Adam Cheng (鄭少秋), who joined from Fung Hang in 1977and Roman Tam (羅文), who recorded his first seven albums with Crown between 1977-79 before joining EMI. These included Susanna Kwan’s “Hotel” (狂潮), Roman Tam’s “A House is not a Home” (家變) and “The Romantic Swordsman” (小李飛刀), Liza Wang’s “Yesterday’s Glitter” (京華春夢), “Love and Passion” (萬水千山總是情) and “The Shell Game” (千王之王) andAdam Cheng’s “The Legend of the Book and Sword” (書劍恩仇錄) and “Five Easy Pieces” (輪流轉). Another major artist under the Crown label in the late 1970s was Agnes Chan, who recorded with the label from 1979 until 1982 when she joined TVB’s Capital Artists.
Left: Crown record “Someday” in 1970 by the Chopsticks; Right: 1979 Crown album featuring Liza Wang and Roman Tam
Facing competition from multinational labels and longtime partner TVB dialing up the recording business of its Capital Artists subsidiary, Crown developed a stable of new talent in the 1980s. This includeConnie MakKit-man (麥潔文), who worked with Crown from 1983 until 1986 when she joined Cinepolywhich resulted in a lawsuit; disc jockey Tong Ching-chuen (湯正川)who worked with Crown from 1981-83 andMichelle Pau (鮑翠薇) who joined Crown in 1983 andthe actor Deric Wan Siu-lun (溫兆倫) who released his first album with Crown in 1986.
The greatest success for Crown in the late 1980s and early 1990s was the young singer Nadia Chan Chung-ling (陳松齡, later changed her English name to Adia and Chinese name to 陳松伶), who released her first album with Crown in 1987 at the age of 15. In 1990, Crown hit gold when it released the album “Song Bird” (天涯歌女) featuring songs sung by Nadia Chan who was starring in the TVB biographical drama of same name about the 1930s Shanghai songstress Zhou Xuan.
Crown Record operated out of the 7th floor of the Kennedy Apartment at 34A Kennedy Road in the Mid-Levels. (Billboard, 1988) In 2001, Lau Tung passed away and in 2005, Crown ceased production of new records. In 2007, Mrs. Lau passed away and her memorial service at the Peninsula Hotel was attended by Liza Wang, director Wong Tin-lam and lyricist Cheng Kwok-kong. The couple were survived by their children Dora Lau (劉鳳兒) and David Lau (劉家富), who engaged in lawsuits over the estate in HK and the US after their parents’ death and Crown Record was dissolved in 2011. The rights to the songs produced by Crown are currently owned by Forward Entertainment & Music Publishing Co Ltd.
Left: Cover of Adam Cheng’s Crown album “Luk Siu Fung” in 1978; Right: Cover of Crown’s hit record – Nadia Chan’s “Song Bird” in 1990.
Sources (other than those cited above):
Fung Hang Record (風行唱片)
Left: cover of the second collection of Fung Hang’s golden records; Right: Jenny Tseng’s enormously successful second Cantonese album released by Fung Hang and Sun Hing Pansonic.
Fung Hang Record was founded in 1965 by Chung Kam-pui (鍾錦沛) and was an affiliate of Life Records founded by Malaysian Chinese music mogul Ng Lian-chin covered earlier.
A native of Dongguan, Chung came to HK at an early age and worked in the movie industry as a sound engineer. Like Crown, Fung Hang focused on Cantonese opera in its early years and Chung worked closely with the composer Pong Chow-wah (龐秋華,1928-1991) and Lee Yuen-man (李願聞). Cantonese opera stars who worked with Fung Hang in its early years included Chui Miu-chi (崔妙芝), Sin Kim-lai (冼劍麗), Wan Fei-yin (尹飛燕), Lee Po-ying(李寶瑩,who did 8 albums with Fung Hang from 1970 to 1988) and Man Chin-sui (文千歲). It also released the charity Cantonese opera album of the socialite Szeto Kwan Pui-ying (司徒關佩英) in 1971 as shown below.
Left: Chung Kam-pui (right) and Szeto Kwan Pui-ying (center) presenting proceeds of her album released by Fung Hang to Samson Sun who was receiving on behalf of the Community Chest in 1971 (KSEN, 1971-3-6); Right: Fung Hang Record’s Chung Kam-pui (right) with Adam Cheng (center) and Agnes Chan and her sister at the Life Records booth at the HK Products Expo in 1972 (KSEN,1972-1-11)
From Cantonese opera, Fung Hang branched out into Cantopop songs, starting with soundtracks for Cantonese movies such as “Green is the Grass” (青青河邊草) and “Girls are Flowers” (姑娘十八一朵花) produced by Kin Shing and Chi Luen of the Kwan family in 1966 which were covered earlier.Two popular Cantonese film actors and singers from this era who worked with Fung Hang were Lee Heung-kam (李香琴), who did 20 albums with Life and Fung Hang between 1971 and 1978 and her on-screen and singing partner Tam Ping-man (譚炳文) who started working with the label in 1968.
In December 1973, Fung Hang participated in the HK Products Expo and its booth featured its stars such as Lee Po-ying and Law Kar-ying who were promoting their new album and ran a quiz show with Commercial Radio at their booth every Tuesday and Friday nights at 8pm. Other singers attached to Fung Hang and its affiliate Life around that time included Yau Nga (尤雅), Irene Chan (陳依齡) and her younger sisterAgnes Chan (陳美齡), Lau Fung-ping (劉鳳屏,who released albums with Fung Hang from 1974-1984 jointly with Life) and Adam Cheng (KSEN, 1973-12-19)
In 1977, Fung Hang released the popular Chinese New Year song “Happy Every Year” (歡樂年年) sung by Adam Cheng (鄭少秋) and Liza Wang, which won a Gold Disc (selling more than 15000 units) at the first Gold Disc Award presentation that year. The same year however, Adam Cheng defected to Crown.
Left: Fung Hang’s album for the 1966 movie “Girls are Flowers” starring Connie Chan; Right: Fung Hang’s record featuring Tam Ping-man and Lee Heung-kam
In 1978, Fung Hang and cassette tape manufacturer Chow Yun-sheung (周潤賞)’s Sun Hing Pansonic (新興全音, incorporated in 1978 and dissolved in 2002) struck gold when they released the HK debut album of Jenny Tseng (甄妮, who was already successful in Taiwan) featuring the classic song “奮鬥” which struck a chord with the HK public. The record-breaking album sold over 300,000 copies in its first month. Jenny worked with Fung Hang until 1980 when she started her own Jen Fu Record (金音符, which sounded like her English name of Jen Fu as she was married to actor Alex Fu).
In 1980, Chung was elected chairman of the International Federation of Phonographic Industry Hong Kong (IFPIHK) and was re-elected for eight more times. Committee members in 1988 included Fung Tim-chee of EMI, Mrs. Lau from Crown, Norman Cheng from Polygram, Peter Chiu from CBS Sony, Tang Ping-hang from Wing Hang (see below) and Tse Shu-lau from Pak Lee. (TKP, 1988-1-13)
One of the key singers for Fung Hang in the early 1980s was Stella Chee, whose albums won Gold Disc for the firm in 1981 and 1982. Fung Hang also produced the first three albums of Amy Chan Sau-man (陳秀雯, who late became more popular as a TV actress) in 1980-81 before she joined Sony. Chung Kam-pui was also allegedly the one who brought Sally Yeh (葉蒨文) from Taiwan to HK in the early 1980s but she hit it big with Warner Music instead.
In 1981, Sun Fung Music Publishing (新風音樂出版) was incorporated for royalty management.
In 1983, Chung Kam-pui did an interview with Ta Kung Pao during which he described the dire situation of the HK music industry at the time thanks to intense competition between 30 record labels and over 100 retailers, weak sales and rising costs which drove 7 music publishers and 10 retailers out of business within 3 months. The number of Chinese records produced was only a dozen for the first half of that year compared with 208 in 1982. (TKP, 1983-6-1)
In 1986, Fung Hang signed a 3 years contract with the singer Helen Au and signed a deal to produce the theme song for the ATV period drama Xi Shi. (WKYP, 1986-4-1)
In May 1989, Chung died of a heart attack at the age of 57. (WKYP, 1989-5-13) His funeral was attended by over 700 figures from the music and entertainment industry with the movie director Lee Tit delivering his eulogy and among his pallbearers was Polygram Asia chief Norman Cheng. He was survived by his wife Mak Lai-chu, one son Hing-lung and two daughters – Yan Yan and Mimi(鍾慧慧) and his wife succeeded him as the head of the firm.
Article about the release of Kam Kwok-wai and Amy Wu’s album by Fung Hang. Mrs. Chung (second from right) and Pong Chow-wah (first from left) as producers toasting with the two artists. (WKYP, 1990-12-15)
In 1990, Fung Hang launched an album featuring TVB actors Kam Kwok-wai and Amy Wu (胡美儀) in celebration of the firm’s silver anniversary. (WKYP, 1990-12-15)
In more recent years under the leadership of Chung’s daughter Mimi and her husband Andy Lam (林錫堅), Fung Hang became the sole agent for HK and China for Cisco Music, Groove Note and Classic Records and also won many awards with some of its Cantonese opera albums and pop albums featuring artists such as the veteran singer Johnny Yip (葉振棠) who released his first album with the label in 2011.
Sources (other than those cited above):
Wing Hang Record Trading (永恒唱片)
Left: Tang Ping-hang with DJ Serina Ha in 2017; Right: Cover of Wing Hang’s cassette tape of Paula Tsui released in 1973
Wing Hang Record Trading was founded in 1973 by Tang Ping-hang (鄧炳恒). Native of Sun Wui in Guangdong province, Tang was born in Indonesia in 1938 and returned to China in 1960 where he played soccer for the Fujian team before coming to HK and starting Wing Hang. (華人月刋, 1985)
The first major star for Wing Hang was Paula Tsui (徐小鳳), who as covered earlier in the article about Cheng Hong and Victory Advertising came on the music scene after winning the HK Songbird competition organized by Cheng in 1965 at the age of 16. The young singer was able to find gigs at different restaurants and nightclubs and even cut a record in Malaysia but did not release her first album in HK until she signed with Wing Hang in 1973. She mostly sang popular Mandopop tunes in her years with Wing Hang until 1978 when she released her first popular Cantonese song “Tycoon” (大亨) written by Joseph Koo for the TVB drama of the same name. That year, she recorded two of the six platinum records (over 30000 units in sales) in HK for Wing Hang before leaving to join Sony.
In 1977, Wing Hang also hit it big with Fanny Wang (薰妮, who was engaged to David Tong of Coda Properties, see article on wallpapers), whose “Whenever There Are Changes” (每當變幻時) became one of the top 10 songs at the first Top 10 Chinese Gold Songs Awards organized by RTHK that year. The song made her a star and she worked with Wing Hang until 1985.
In 1978, Wing Hang had three platinum records and two gold records. In February 1979, Wing Hang celebrated its success in 1978 with a banquet at Ocean Palace Restaurant & Nightclub at Ocean Centre with its stars Fanny Wang, Fung Wai-tong, Cheung Tak-lan, Cheung Wai-man and Lee Tim-sing.(WKYP, 1979-2-27) That year, Wing Hang had another hit with the theme song for the TVB drama “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (綱中人) sung by Cheung Tak-lan (張德蘭), who continued to work with Wing Hang to this day.
Left: cover of Wing Hang’s “Best of Cheung Ming-man” album; Right: cover of Wing Hang CD album – “Best of Deannie Yip”
In 1979, Wing Hang signed with Cheung Ming-mun (張明敏), whose mother like Tang is an Indonesian Chinese and although the music scene in HK by that time was dominated by Cantonese songs, Tang took a bet and released several Mandarin albums sung by Cheung in the early 1980s. Cheung’spatriotic songs “I Am Chinese” (我是中國人), “My Chinese Heart” (我的中國心, composed by Wang Fuling and lyrics by James Wong, released in 1983 and became a huge hit in China after it was sung at CCTV’s Chinese New Year broadcast in 1984), “Chinese Race” (中華民族) and “Descendants of Dragon” (龍的傳人, originally written in Taiwan in 1978) became massive hits not only in HK but in the mainland and the global Chinese community and helped Wing Hang to become the first HK record company to successfully penetrate the mainland Chinese market.
One of the top stars for Wing Hang in the early 1980s was Deannie Ip (葉德嫻)who released 5 albums with the firm between 1981 and 1984 including the classic songs such as “Star” (明星), “Tired” (倦), “Stardust” (星塵), “Lucky Me” (幸運是我) and“You’re Keeping Me Here” (你留我在此) that cemented her status as a singer.
Other female singers with the Wing Hang label include Sara Lee (李麗蕊) who released many popular songs with Wing Hang from 1983 to 1988 and Cindy Fong (方麗盈) and other male singers with the Wing Hang label included Cheung Wai-man (張偉文, 6 albums with Wing Hang between 1980 to 1982), Kwan Ching-kit (關正傑), James Fung Wai-tong (馮偉棠, who worked with Wing Hang from 1975 to 1980) and Tsui Siu-ming (徐小明).
Sources (other than those cited above):
This article was first posted on 17th May 2021.
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