Salmah Ismail

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"Saloma" redirects here. For the small town in the United States, see Saloma, Kentucky.
Saloma in 1960's
Born Salmah binti Ismail
(1935-01-22)22 January 1935
Pasir Panjang, Singapore, Straits Settlements
Died 25 April 1983(1983-04-25) (aged 48)
Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya,
Selangor, Malaysia
Cause of death
Liver failure associated with jaundice
Resting place
Jalan Ampang Muslim Cemetery Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Occupation Singer, actress model
Years active 1958 - 1983
Notable work Azimat, Seniman Bujang Lapok, Ahmad Albab
Religion Islam
Spouse(s) Aman Ramli Jaafar (April 1952 - September 1952) , P.Ramlee (November 1961 - 29 May 1973)

Biduanita Negara Puan Sri Datin Amar Salmah binti Ismail, AMN better known as Primadona Saloma (22 January 1935 – 25 April 1983) was a Singaporean-Malaysian singer, film actress, trendsetter and a fashion icon who became well known in the late 1950s. She was the second daughter in her family. Her older sister is actress Siti Mariam Ismail (stage name Mariani) and actress-singer Aminah Ismail (stage name Mimi Loma) is her younger sister. Saloma was the third wife of the multi-talented film actor, director, singer, songwriter, composer and producer Tan Sri Datuk Amar P. Ramlee. In her early career, Saloma was only known for her songs and minor character in the 50's films, but after playing a major role in the films 'Azimat' (1958) and 'Kaki Kuda' (1958), she began to expand her career as a film actress. She acted in various films such as Seniman Bujang Lapok (1961), Ragam P.Ramlee (1964) and Ahmad Albab (1968).

After her husband's death in 1973, Saloma was overwhelmed with grief and depression that took a toll on her health. It led her to suffer from a number of illnesses which caused her to look thin and sickly. She was admitted to Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya, Selangor before her death in 25 April 1983 at the age of 48 caused by liver failure associated with jaundice. Saloma was awarded the title Biduanita Pertama Negara (First National Songbird) in 1978 and the title Puan Sri in 1990.

Family and Early life[edit]

Saloma was born on 22 January 1935 in Pasir Panjang, Singapore as Salmah binti Ismail, the third and last daughter to Ismail Osman and Umi Kalsom Mahban. . During her childhood, Saloma enjoyed singing. She would usually share her thoughts of becoming a singer with her sister, Mariani. At the early age of five, Saloma was already singing with the local street bands. From there, her desire to become a singer grew even more.

Saloma's parents were divorced and she then followed her father to Tanjung Karang, Selangor in Tanah Melayu (now Malaysia) with Aminah. Both of them lived with their father and their new stepmother. During the World War 2, they used to help their father on the paddy fields. Unable to blend in with the new atmosphere, both of them ran back to Singapore without their father. After that, Saloma and her sisters lived with their mother and their stepfather, Mum Yusoff. Mum Yusoff was a musician from a local orchestra called The Singapore Boys who was contracted to perform at The New World Cabaret. As Saloma always talked about being a singer, he brought her to the cabaret one night and introduced her to the audience. She was then asked to perform "Seven Lonely Days" by Georgia Gibbs. Her singing style and voice impressed the audience there. She continued with a number of other songs and it was the start of her career as a singer.


Early Career: 1949-1953[edit]

Saloma voice's began to play in the local airwaves when her stepfather brought her to see his orchestra perform on Radio Malaya. Singer Rokiah Hanafi, also known as Rokiah Wandah, was scheduled to sing several songs with the orchestra, but did not appear that day. Mum Yusoff decided to persuade Salomah to try singing the songs that were supposed to sung by Rokiah. Fortunately, her her performance was a success. After that, she received many offers from orchestras throughout Singapore to be their main singer. One of her songs that she sangs in Radio Malaya was called "Sang Rang Bulan". The song was played in the film "Rachun Dunia" (Poison of This World) and was once recorded by a local singer named Rubiah.

In 1950, Saloma fell in love with the hero of a film called 'Aloha' after watching the film for the first time. The hero was played by P.Ramlee. At that time, Saloma was only 15 years and 11 months old. Her love for him grew stronger each day and Saloma swore that she would marry the actor one day. During the film blockbuster, P.Ramlee used to walk from his house to the studio. In the middle of the road, he had to walk pass Saloma's house in Mount Emily. Every time he walked towards the house, a Chinese boy selling grassjelly[clarification needed] would run to Saloma 's house to tell her about the presence of her beloved hero. Saloma would then tease P.Ramlee by calling out "Banjo" (the character he played in the film) and then hid when he turned around to see who had called out to him.

saloma in norma
Salmah (Saloma) during her early careers in the film 'Norma'.

During the early 1950s, her dream career to became a singer did not go the way she had wanted. Instead, she started her career as a film actress, offered by Nusantara Film. Her first film was entitled 'Pelangi' (Rainbow), which received positive reviews among the audience. After that, she received a few offer from Nusantara Film to act in other films. In that period, she had acted in two other films, entitled 'Perkahwinan Rahsia' (Secret Wedding) and 'Norma'. In January 1952, she was offered a minor role as a club singer in a film called 'Chinta Murni' (True Love) by Nusantara Film, directed by Aman Ramlie or better known as A.R Tompel. At the time, it was her fourth film.

In April 1952, few months after the release of 'Chinta Murni', the Malay film fans were shocked by the news that announced her marriage with Aman Ramlie. At that time, Aman Ramlie was a well known director and comedian while she only beginning to be recognised with the film 'Norma'. Their marriage did not last longer than 5 months and they were divorced in September 1952 when Salomah was pregnant their first child.

According to her sister, Mariam, she was brought back to their house in Mount Emily to live with their mother. After her last film with Nusantara Film Company, titled 'Sesal Tak Sudah' (Lasting Regret), Saloma immediately ended her contract with the company. The reason given was that she needed a rest because of her pregnancy and her refusal to work with her ex-husband any longer. At the end of 1952 until 1953, Salomah ended her career as a performer.

Restart: 1954-1960[edit]

After returning from her travel to Sarawak and Brunei on 23 July 1954, Salomah was offered by Pathe Company to record her voice. It was strongly supported by Syed Hamid, known as S.Hamid, who rose to fame at that time. They knew each other after acting in the film 'Sesal Tak Sudah'. A song titled 'Pandang Kasih' (Look of Love), composed by Rahmat Ali and lyrics by Ismadi, is a rumba-style while the song 'Jika Tak Berjumpa' (If We Don't Meet) came from Arabic melodies which was then recomposed by S.Hussein Bagushir and lyrics by Wan Chu. Both of the songs were accompanied by Orkes Al Aishu Wal Meleh, conducted by S.Omar Bagushir. Salomah's first solo and also her first song recorded on vinyl by Pathe Company (numbered PTH 143) was 'Pandang Kasih' while the song 'Jika Tak Berjumpa' was her first duet with S.Hamid.

In 1955, Salomah was offered an acting role in a film by Studio Jalan Ampas which she accepted. Her first film with Studio Jalan Ampas was entitled 'Empat Isteri' (Four Wives). This was last film directed by B.S. Rajhans. The film also starred Daeng Haris, Normadiah, Latifah Omar and Salmah's sister, Mariam (as Mariani). During the year, Salomah also recorded several songs including 'Burong Punggok' (The Owl). In February 1956, she was offered to replace actress Siput Sarawak in the film 'Adekku' (My Younger Sibling). There were rumours said that Siput Sarawak had quit after most of the movie scenes recorded.

After her success as a singer and also an actress, Shaw Brothers studio decided to give her a more commercial name. She got her stage name based on the film 'Salome' starring Rita Hayworth. In the same year, Saloma joined Panca Sitara, a band led by P.Ramlee.

International success: 1961-1968[edit]

Saloma began singing at the age of seven and was a professional singer by the time she was in her teenage years. Her singing was more in the style of Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day. While she did became an actress later on, she had always said she preferred singing to acting. As a singer, she sharpened her talents with Orkes Fajar Murni, led by Yusof Osman, during the early year of her career. She was also involved with another orchestra, Panca Sitara, in the 1960s.


Some of her more popular songs :

  • Pandang Kasih
  • Bunga Tanjung
  • Inang Baru
  • Jelingan Mata (1958)
  • Singapura Waktu Malam (1962)
  • Apa Guna Berjanji (1965)


Some memorable films acted by Saloma:

  • Azimat (1958)
  • Seniman Bujang Lapok (1961)
  • Ragam P. Ramlee (1965)
  • Sabaruddin Tukang Kasut (1966)
  • Ahmad Albab (1968) (Both her sisters and her played the role of sisters in the film)
  • Bila Hati Telah Retak (1982)
  • Kaki Kuda
  • Si Tanggang


Saloma died on 25 April 1983 at Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. She was buried next to her husband, P. Ramlee at Jalan Ampang Muslim Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur.


In 1978, she was awarded by the Malaysian government at Kecapi Awards as Biduanita Negara (National Songbird). To date, the late singer, Sharifah Aini, is the only other singer who had received the same honour.

The Saloma Bistro and Theatre Restaurant at Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur was opened in 2003 and named after Saloma in honour of her contribution to the Malaysian entertainment industry. During her heyday, Saloma was also known as the 'Marilyn Monroe of Malaysia', due to her ability to attract male adulation like Marilyn Monroe. In 2014, a film titled 'Saloma' which has 2 part,'Pandang Guruh' and 'Mencuri Kaseh ' was made and acted by Nabila Huda who played the role of Saloma. The film can be watched on Astro First.

Saloma Bistro and Theatre Restaurant, named after Saloma in honour of her contribution to the entertainment industry of Malaysia.


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