Yao Lee

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For the assassin in the Spring and Autumn Period, see Yao Li.
Nancy Yao Lee
Chinese name 姚莉
Pinyin Yáo Lì (Mandarin)
Jyutping jiu4 lei6 (Cantonese)
Birth name Yáo Xiùyún (姚秀雲)
Born 1922 (age 93–94)
Shanghai, China
Occupation Singer
Genre(s) Mandopop, shidaiqu
Label(s) Pathé / EMI
Years active 1930s — 1970s
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Yao.

Yao Lee (Chinese: 姚莉), also credited as Yao Li, Yiu Lei and Miss Hue Lee, is a Chinese singer active from the 1930s to the 1970s. She is the sister of Yao Min, also a famous singer. She was considered one of the Seven great singing stars of Shanghai in the 1940s.


Born Yáo Xiùyún (姚秀雲) and raised in Shanghai, Yao began performing on the radio in 1935 at the age of 13. When she was 14, she recorded her first single with Yan Hua (嚴華) called "New Little Cowherd" (新小放牛, Xin xiao fang niu). She was signed to Pathé Records when she was 16 in 1937, and the first record she released with the label was "Yearning for Sale" (賣相思, Mai Xiang Si).[1]

She married Huang Baoluo (黃保羅) in 1947 and ceased performing on stage to devote time to her family. Following the Communist seizure of power in China in 1949, popular music was considered ideologically suspect[2] and Yao fled to Hong Kong in 1950 to continue her singing career there. In addition to releasing hit records, beginning in 1955 with the film 桃花江 (Peach Blossom River), she often acted as a playback singer for movie superstars. Many of the featured songs would also become popular. She stopped singing in 1967 upon the death of her brother but took an executive position with EMI Music Hong Kong in 1969. In 1970, she returned to performing and travelled to Taiwan to perform there for the first time and sought unsuccessfully to sign Teresa Teng to EMI for the Hong Kong market. She retired officially in 1975 but remained supportive of singers such as Wakin Chau.


During the 1930s and 40s, Yao Lee's high, soft singing style was typical of Chinese popular music of the time (influenced by superstar Zhou Xuan). She performed numerous popular standards, such as Wishing You Happiness and Prosperity (恭喜恭喜), "I Can't Have Your Love" (得不到你的愛情), and "By the Suzhou River" (蘇州河邊) with her brother Yao Min, arguably the best-known Chinese pop songwriter of the shidaiqu era.[3] She is famous for her 1940 version of Rose, Rose, I Love You (玫瑰玫瑰我愛你), later recorded by Frankie Laine in the United States with English lyrics. (Her version was also released in the US and the United Kingdom credited to "Miss Hue Lee"). Yao was known as "the Silver Voice" (銀嗓子) alluding to fellow Shanghai singer Zhou Xuan, who was known as "the Golden Voice" (金嗓子).

With increasing Western influences in the region after World War II and her move to Hong Kong, Yao Lee's singing style changed. She was introduced to more Western popular music and became an admirer of American singer Patti Page, whom she emulated by lowering her voice and incorporating some similar vocal mannerisms. As a result, Yao is sometimes called "Hong Kong's Patti Page." One of her biggest '50s records was "The Spring Breeze Kisses My Face" (春風吻上我的臉).

Yao was extremely prolific with over 400 gramophone records attributed to her.


  1. ^ "30年代上海著名歌手姚莉:带着眼泪唱歌的人 一月挣2块钱". laoren.com. 2014-04-03. 
  2. ^ Panorama of Musical Creation: Vocal Music at China Culture Information Net
  3. ^ Wakinchau. Golden days of Yao Li 流金歲月-姚莉 玫瑰 玫瑰我愛你. Retrieved on 2007-04-26.

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