The journey of Vietnamese singer Bach Yen, whose name sounds like a craving for baroque music and means "white swallow," has been a round-trip one. She left her native land in the early '60s, heading for Paris and a dream of becoming an international pop star in the Edith Piaf style. From there the road led to America and mass television exposure alongside some of the icons of showbiz. But eventually the road led back to the East and her musical roots. She married Vietnamese multi-instrumentalist and ethnomusicologist Tran Quang Hai and in collaboration with him, began singing the most traditional Vietnamese music.
Her performing career began in Saigon nightclubs when she was quite young, and in this challenging setting, she had to be comfortable singing not only in Vietnamese, but in French, English, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew. She left for Paris in 1961 with a Polydor contract awaiting, but the record label's plans for her ran contrary to what the songstress had in mind. They wanted the twist, for example. Despite the artistic tussles, several albums and videos were produced, and Yen toured behind them in various European countries.
In 1965, none other than Ed Sullivan provided the invite to cross the Atlantic, and from an initial two-week tour based around a Sullivan TV appearance, her American residency expanded to nearly 12 years. She was a familiar face on television and guested on the variety shows of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Joey Bishop, Mike Douglas, Pat Boone, and others. Yen also toured in package shows where she would share the stage with artists such as Frankie Avalon, Jimmy Durante, and Liberace. A high point in public exposure was her soundtrack singing for John Wayne's right-wing film The Green Berets, although this might not have been a favorite career move in the eyes of her Vietnamese fans.
The mainstream American chapter of her career closed shortly thereafter. She returned to Paris, where she became involved with Hai, a master of an arsenal of traditional Vietnamese instruments as well as an accomplished academic. He apparently provided a strong influence in the direction of her performing traditional Vietnamese music. Together they have performed thousands of recitals and have released seven albums and compact discs. The 1983 Vietnam on the Studio SM label won the Grand Prix de Disques award. The collection Souvenir was released by William Arthur in America in 1994.