Singapore’s first lady of song
Rahimah Rahim was, it could be said, born to be a singer and performer. Her father, Rahim Hamid, was a film editor and singer who in the 1950s was known as the Nat King Cole of Singapore. Her mother was the actress Mariam Baharom. An uncle was Ahmad Daud, a popular singer and actor in the 1960s and 1970s.
The eldest of four children, Rahimah was just six when she landed a role in the 1961 film Korban Kasih (Love Sacrifice). Other film roles included Masuk Angin Keluar Asap (1963) and Kasih Ibu (1965) and a Malay sitcom Pak Awang Temberang, and she also sang on several variety shows.
Her singing career got underway when she was about 14 and began to sing with her father at nightclubs. He had to smuggle her in because the clubs were off-limits to children under 18. When there were spot checks, she would hide under the grand piano or run outside. After leaving school in 1971, she regularly sang with him. In 1972 her first extended play, Mana Ibu Mu, was released.
Her big break came in 1974 when she took part in the Kimi Koso Talentime held in Tokyo, Japan. She beat more than 100 singers from across Asia to the top prize, which included a three-year recording contract with Warner Music. Rahimah would have liked to have stayed on in Tokyo, but returned to Singapore at her mother’s insistence.
Back in Singapore, she began singing at Mandarin Court and Neptune Theatre Restaurant. Releasing back to back hits such as Gadis Dan Bunga and Bebas, Rahimah became a household name. She travelled a lot, particularly to Taiwan and Hong Kong where she took part in shows with stars such as Alan Tam and Leslie Cheung. She also represented the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation in the ASEAN Song Festival and in the Golden Bell Awards in Taiwan.
Between 1984 and 1996, Rahimah had a bridal boutique, Rahimah Rahim’s Fashion House, at Singapore Shopping Centre. But in 1989 she decided to retire from singing to spend more time with her young daughter. She completed the album she had been working on and then quit show business. She went on pilgrimages to Mecca and later took on some administrative jobs. She has since 2009 worked fulltime at a law firm.
In 2003, she was persuaded to make a partial return to singing. An album of her greatest hits, Suatu Memori, was released and she began to accept singing and acting engagements. She appeared in dramas on Radio Television Malaya and in reality shows on Singapore television, and was the chief judge of Mediacorp’s Malay reality-television show Anugerah in 2005. In 2006 she did a guest performance on Singapore Idol.
In 2010, Rahimah appeared in Dick Lee’s musical, Fried Rice Paradise. It was the first time she took part in an English-language stage musical. She found the live acting a challenging but rewarding experience. In 2015 she played the part of a ‘summon aunty’ (parking warden) in Royston Tan’s movie, 3688.
"I am happy that I have a balanced life, one on stage and as an average living person. I think it has kept me happy all my life."
– Still in her element, New Straits Times, 24 June 2016
"I keep up with the trend of music but I don’t want to become too westernised. I want to keep my heritage because I think people would appreciate that no matter how far out of Singapore."
– Rahimah, Rahimah to go international, The Straits Times, 31 August 1981