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)January 22, 1935
Pasir Panjang, Singapore
Died April 25, 1983(1983-04-25) (aged 48)
Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya,
Selangor, Malaysia
Cause of death
Yellow fever
Resting place
Jalan Ampang Muslim Cemetery Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Occupation Singer, actress model
Years active 1958 - 1983
Notable work(s) Azimat, Seniman Bujang Lapok, Ahmad Albab etc.
Religion Islam
Spouse(s) A.R Tompel (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 famous in late 50s until early 80s. She was the second daughter in her family, the other which is Mariani, her older 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 is only known for her songs and minor character in the 50's films, but after playing a major role in the film Azimat (1958) and Kaki Kuda (1958) Saloma began to expand her career as a film actress. She began to act 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 began to overwhelmed with depression and sadness that leads Saloma to suffer from numerous diseases which then makes her look thin and dull. She was admitted to Assunta Hospital, Petaling Jaya, Selangor before her death in 25 April 1983 age 48, because of yellow fever. Saloma has been entitled Biduanita Pertama Negara (First National Songbird) in 1978 and the title Puan Sri in 1990 which shows the status of a Tan Sri's wife.

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. Three of them grew up in a normal Malay-style living like the other families. During her childhood, Saloma loves to sing. She usually shares her thoughts to became a singer with her sister Mariani, who wanted to be a beauty peageant instead. At the age of as early as 5 years old, Saloma tends to sing with the local street bands. From there, her desire to became a singer went great as she wanted to be.

Saloma's parents were divorced and she then followed her father to Tanjung Karang, Selangor in Tanah Melayu (now Malaysia) with one sister. 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's presence. Since then, Saloma and her sisters live with their mother and their new stepfather, Mum Yusoff. Eventhough their parent's were divorced, Saloma's desire to sing never burn off. Mum Yusoff is a musician from a local orchestra called The Singapore Boys who made a contract to perform at The New World Cabaret. As Saloma always talk about being a singer, one night he brought Saloma into the cabaret and introduce her to the audience. She then were asked to perform "Seven Lonely Days" by Georgia Gibbs. Her singing style and voice has made the audience amazed by her performance. From then, she began to sing numerous songs and it was a start of her career as a singer.


Early Career: 1949-1953[edit]

Saloma's (only known by Salmah Ismail at this time) voice began to tune in the local radio stations when her stepfather, Mum Yusoff brought her to see his orchestra perform on Radio Malaya. Singer Rokiah Hanafi or also known as Rokiah Wandah was scheduled to sing several songs with the bands, but suddenly she did not appear during that day. Mum Yusoff had an idea to coax Salmah in order to try singing the songs that supposed to sing by Rokiah. Luckily, her try was resulting in a success. Since then, she received many promotion from many orchestra throughout Singapore to be their main singer. One of her songs that she sings in Radio Malaya was called "Sang Rang Bulan". The song appeared to be in the film "Rachun Dunia" and once recorded by local singer, Rubiah.

In 1950, Salmah began to fall in love with a hero of a film called 'Aloha' which is acted by P.Ramlee, after watching the film for the first time. At that time, Salmah was only 15 years and 11 months old. Her love for him kept going stronger day by day and Salmah swore that she would marry the actor one day. During the film blockbuster, P.Ramlee used to walk back and forth from his house to the studio. In the middle of the road, he had to walk passing Salmah's house in Mount Emily. Everytime he walks towards the house, a Chinese grassjelly[clarification needed] boy would ran into Salmah's house, telling her about the presence of her beloved hero. Salmah then would tease P.Ramlee by calling him "Banjo", the character he played on the film and then hides when he turned around.

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

During the early 50s, Salmah's dream career to became a singer doesn't went well with what she wanted to became. Instead, she started her career as a film actress, offered by Nusantara Film. Her first film was entitled 'Pelangi' , which received positive reviews among the audiences. From then, she received quite a few offer from Nusantara Film to act in another films. In that period, Salmah has acted in two other films, entitled 'Perkahwinan Rahsia' (Secret Wedding) dan 'Norma'. In January 1952, Salmah was offered a minor role as a club singer in a film called 'Chinta Murni' by Nusantara Film, directed by Aman Ramlie or better known as A.R Tompel. To date, it was her fourth film.

In April 1952, few months after the release of 'Chinta Murni', the Malay film fans have been shocked with the news that announced the marriage of Salmah Ismail (Saloma) with Aman Ramlie. During that time, Tompel is a well known director and comedian while Salmah only began to be recognized with the film 'Norma'. Their marriage doesn't last longer than 5 months and they were divorced in September 1952 when Salmah was pregnant their first child.

According to her sister Mariani, Salmah was brought back to their house in Mount Emily to live with their mother. After her last film with Nusantara Film Company, entitled 'Sesal Tak Sudah', Ismail immediately ended her contract with the company. The reason of such an action was she need to rest because of pregnancy, and she doesn't want to cooperate with his ex-husband any longer. In the end of 1952 until 1953, Salmah ended her carier as a performer.

Restart: 1954-1960[edit]

After coming back from travelling to Sarawak and Brunei in 23 July 1954, Salmah was offered by Pathe Company to record her voice in the vinyl. It was strongly supported by Syed Hamid or known as S.Hamid who rose to fame at that time. They were both know each other after acting in the film 'Sesal Tak Sudah'. A song entitled 'Pandang Kasih', composed by Rahmat Ali and lyrics by Ismadi is a rumba-style while the song 'Jika Tak Berjumpa', came from Arabic melodies which 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. Hence, Salmah'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, Salmah once again offered to act in a film, this time it was offered by Studio Jalan Ampas. Salmah agreed with it and she accepted the offer. Hence, Salmah first film with Studio Jalan Ampas was entitled 'Empat Isteri' (Four Wives). The film was the last film directed by B.S Rajhans ans the film also co-starring Daeng Haris, Normadiah, Latifah Omar and Mariani, Salmah's sister. During the years, Salmah have also recorded several songs including 'Burong Punggok'. In February 1956, Salmah was offered to replace Siput Sarawak in the film 'Adekku'. Rumours said that Siput Sarawak quits after most of the scene recorded. The main reason she quits still remain unknown.

After her great success in being a singer and also an actress, The Shaw Brothers decided to give Salmah Ismail a commercial name. Hence, Salmah got her stage name, Saloma based on the international film starring Rita Hayworth, Salome. 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 has always said she preferred singing than acting. As a singer, she sharpened her talents with Orkes Fajar Murni, led by Yusof Osman, during early year in her career. She was also involved with another orchestra which is Panca Sitara in the 1960. The song Pandang Kasih, made by Rahmat Ali, brought Saloma luck as a singer.


Here are some of her 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)
  • 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 70s singer Sharifah Aini was only one singer who has received the same honor.

The Saloma Bistro & Theater Restaurant at Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur was opened in 2003 and named after Saloma in honor 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 ' were made and reacted by Nabila Huda who took the role of Saloma. The film can be watched on Astro First.

Saloma Bistro & Theater Restaurant, named after Saloma in honor of her contribution to the entertainment industry of Malaysia.


External links[edit]