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Patti Kim’s life story told by Jo Young-nam

Veteran singers get together  for a special project

Veteran singer Patti Kim has never been so fond of the idea of publishing her biography, up until the idea of working with her famous colleague popped up.

“I’ve been asked to publish a book about myself for the last 20 years, but the idea never really appealed to me,” said the 74-year-old diva during a press meeting in central Seoul Wednesday.

“But when my staff members suggested the idea of working with Jo, I thought, well, that may actually work out. I’ve performed with him countless times throughout my career. And I’ve read his books and quite enjoyed them. He’s a fun, witty writer, who uses simple yet charming sentences.”

The legendary signer, who in February retired from her 55-year singing career, published her special biography this week ― penned by her friend and celebrated veteran singer, painter and writer Jo Young-nam.
Veteran singers Patti Kim (left) and Jo Young-nam pose with copies of Kim’s newly released biography in Seoul on Wednesday. (Dolbegae)
Veteran singers Patti Kim (left) and Jo Young-nam pose with copies of Kim’s newly released biography in Seoul on Wednesday. (Dolbegae)

The duo, who have been long-time friends and colleagues, said it all started with a phone call in August of last year.

“Kim simply called me and said, ‘let’s have some cold noodles together tomorrow,’” said Jo, who attended the press meeting alongside Kim. Jo is seven years the diva’s junior.

“I said, all right. She shared two big surprises the next day over the noodles. One was that she was planning to retire soon, and that she decided to have me to write her biography. I had no choice but to accept. I mean, it was an order from Patti Kim. I can never say no to her requests.”

Jo, who has written 18 books prior to Kim’s biography, said his main goal was to write a book that is entertaining to read. The result is a book that is entirely made of the transcript of Kim and Jo’s four months of interviews, which took place at Jo’s house in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul, from August to December of last year.

“In the beginning I was thinking of taking the traditional approach,” said Jo.

“You know, the kind of biography that starts off by saying, ‘Patti Kim was born in Seoul in whatever year and so and so.’ But as I interviewed her, I was fascinated by how eloquent and well-spoken Kim actually is. I had never realized it until she and I started this project together. So I thought it would be more fun for the readers to read Kim’s words that came directly from her, rather than hear my voice on her life and career.”

The book chronicles Kim’s impressive singing career and dramatic personal life. Born in 1938 as Kim Hye-ja, she made her debut at a local U.S. military base in 1959. She is known to be the first Korean singer to perform in Japan in 1960 and in Las Vegas in 1963. In 1978, she became the first local pop singer to perform at the Sejong Center, which only allowed classical musicians to give concerts at the time. In 1989, she gave a solo concert in the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York, also becoming the first Korean artist to do so.

The book also frankly touches on Kim’s unhappy seven-year marriage to renowned composer Gil Ok-yoon, as well as Kim’s difficult relationship with her father, who left his family for another woman when Kim was an infant.

Jo also offers interesting trivia about the singer and her personality, including how she never sits down once she puts on her stage costume because she cannot bear a single crease in her garment. She never eats anything for at least three hours before her concerts, and would never wears her stage shoes elsewhere.

“Being on the stage is like an addiction,” said Kim, who said she had been thinking about retiring for the last ten years. “But I wanted to leave the scene when I’m still healthy, sing well, and sexy. Of course it’s hard. But I think I’ve made the right decision.”

At the press meeting, celebrated singer Insooni, who was also in attendance, asked Kim a question. “Now that you are retiring, it’s hard for us remaining singers to find someone to rely on,” said Insooni. “What would you say to your junior colleagues in the music scene?”

“Just because I’m no longer performing, it doesn’t mean I’m going away from you,” said Kim to Insooni.

“I don’t know how much longer I’ll live, but I’ll be here for whoever needs me. I hope you (referring to Insooni) would do the same later.”

By Claire Lee (