Tribute to Our Divine ‘M’

We lost the last link to the previous generation of our family when our beautiful Margaret passed away on 5 August 2021 in Noosa, Queensland. She was a gifted musician and singer – and a wonderfully warm, giving, human being. Her shining legacy and impact on our lives will be felt forever. This is our Tribute to You, Margaret!

‘Quizas’ by the Trio Los Panchos was a ’40s song that Margaret always sang she loved its rich melody, Latin rhythms & major-minor key shifts

From Geoff:

I married Margaret in 1981 in Sydney, and we spent 40 wonderful years together. It was a beautiful marriage – Margaret turned my life into A LIFE! ‘I’ll Get By’ was our wedding piece, and the words of that song always remained true for us.

From left: Margaret’s brother-in-law Hans, sister Poppy, Margaret & Geoff – Noosa, mid-’90s

“I’ll get by as long as I have you / Though there’ll be rain and darkness too / I’ll not complain, I’ll see it through … ”. Our life in a song. Thank you Margaret – Much love, Geoff.

From Shirley:

Margaret, or ‘M’ as she was known, dodged the bullets of her cancer for 6 years, surprising her doctors. Her last few months were the most difficult, but she got her wish to remain at her Noosa unit to the very end. I was only an hour’s flight away in Sydney, heartbroken that the pandemic separated us. I couldn’t hold her in my arms and sing to her in her last hours of life. 

Left: The Manasseh Sisters at the start of their career: Margaret (left) & sister Poppy – Singapore, late ’40s; Top centre: The Sisters on stage, New Years Eve – Spore, early 50s; Bottom Centre: The reformed Manasseh Sisters: Margaret (3rd from left) & Shirley, with ‘The Constellation – Tanglin Club, Spore, 1975; Right: M, Shirley & bassist David Loh – Tanglin Club, late 70s.

I will treasure every visit I made to Noosa to see Margaret and her husband Geoff. The last time was in April this year, just before the Sydney lockdown. M gave me cassettes of all our recorded music, her scrapbook and photos. She knew she didn’t have much time left.

Sitting at her home ‘office’ table with her notes, diary, medication and TV guide, she reminisced about her life in Singapore, and the horrors of being interned during the Japanese occupation there. Her mother was widowed at 35 with 5 daughters, 2 sons and 5 stepchildren.    

M and her sister Poppy worked as waitresses serving Japanese troops during the War, and also began singing together. A high-ranking Japanese officer loved their voices so much, he placed an order outside their home forbidding entry to Japanese soldiers. A lady at the restaurant kitchen gave them food to put in their apron pockets to take home. Someone was certainly watching over this family who were so vulnerable in the face of war! 

The best part of my childhood was spent in my Gran’s flat (we lived in the same block), listening in awe to M and Poppy – the much-loved “Andrews’ Sisters of Singapore” – sing and play their guitars, harmonising perfectly (both learned guitar in their teens). Our beloved Poppy was just as vivacious as the pictures show, and a very good lead guitarist. She remained a crack cryptic-crossworder and witty joke raconteur right until she left us in 2013. M always felt her loss. 

Singapore’s Manasseh Sisters made ‘Rum & Coca Cola’ their hit too, in the late ’40s–early50s

But the mid-’60s were a happy time for M and Poppy, after they settled in Sydney. They had full-time jobs, and Poppy married in 1969. My mother then insisted M should return to Singapore, saying “We CAN’T let that voice die!” (I was singing solo in nightclubs then.) M arrived in 1970 with her trusted guitar. We found a bassist and drummer, and began our career as the reformed ‘Manasseh Sisters’.

Our best and happiest times were with our band ‘The Constellation’ at Singapore’s exclusive Tanglin Club. We performed there for 7 years. 

Listening to the tapes and looking back at our careers now, it’s uncanny how well our voices blended and harmonised. We had such different personalities: M lived for the moment, I planned for the future; she loved her scotch and soda, I stuck to water with sliced lemon. But on stage we were ONE. Our strengths prevailed over our weaknesses. We didn’t simply sing: M was the supreme entertainer and communicator who lit up the stage; I was the administrator who scheduled rehearsals, selected new songs and compiled song lists.

We alternated smoothly from verse to chorus if a song had a wide vocal range – and no-one could tell us apart! We all memorised our music, lyrics and arrangements. The ’70s song ‘Rose Garden’ was one that took the longest to perfect; I still recall our frustration, and then elation when we got it right! 

‘Rose Garden’ was a huge favourite at the Tanglin Club

My dearest M: We celebrated your life each day you were alive. Now we reminisce and will shed many tears. You’re there in my heart and in every note I sing. I can still hear you harmonising with me. And for all those lovely years we had together on stage, I thank you!

One of M & Shirley’s last songs sung together at the Tanglin Club, 1977 – ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’Round the Ole Oak Tree’

From Joyce:

Joyce & Margaret – Brisbane, 2000

It is so surreal, really, to be writing this. I don’t know where to start, because there is so much. Margaret was just here only weeks ago, and now, devastatingly, she is not. And yet … she is. Mainly because she is unforgettable. I cannot think of a single person I know who, once they met her, disliked her. It would not be incorrect to say that everyone loved Margaret.

You see, Margaret shone. As I remember her now, it’s as if she came with a light around her. She shone with deep love from within: love for her family, love for her friends, love for the love of her life, the husband she left behind, Geoff. Margaret loved life itself, the music and poetry in it; she loved making music; she fell in love with a melody, with well-constructed, meaningful lyrics, with the pathos of a love song, but also with the energizing rhythms of a Latin beat. Actually, she was so enthused about everything creative – the performance arts, unique voices, outstanding renditions, artworks. She had the amazing ability – and desire – to absorb it all.

Sister Poppy embraces the winner of the Frankie Laine Singing Competition S’pore, early ’50s

Unbelievably it seems, this wonderful woman, my aunt, was even more: conversations with her sparkled with her wit and humor and she appreciated a good joke and told them well; her laughter was hearty and infectious. They were also filled with her insatiable curiosity about everything right to her last few days – from computers to politics to cooking and recipes, to philosophies and religion. She had an inspiring appreciation for so many things – and so many people. You always felt Margaret’s love and so, it was always easy to love her back. She was generous of spirit, she supported us, encouraged us and although she quipped, “If at first you don’t succeed – GIVE UP!”, she never did, nor did she expect us to. 

She lived life her way all the way to the very end – courageously, energetically, lovingly and empathically – through a hectic childhood and being interned by the Japanese in WWII, enduring and overcoming personal hurdles to shine brighter than before, even winning, as a teenager, the Frankie Laine Singing Contest. She sang beautifully and played the guitar – and although she found it increasingly difficult to continue playing her favorite instrument, she accepted the rapidly changing situation in her life uncomplainingly. Instead, she was eager to watch ace guitarists shred the strings on YouTube. We had enjoyed exchanging clips of so many performers in this way over the years, especially so in the last few.

Yes, there is much to remember and much to write, because Margaret was involved in so much, the best you can find in a human being. In losing her, I personally have lost the most understanding, encouraging, supportive aunt I could ever have the blessing of knowing.

Rest well, my dearest M. I will always remember you with the greatest admiration and love.

From Gloria:

Margaret inspired me to strum the guitar like she did – and I learnt while watching her. Her voice was amazing, and her ear for harmony was so perfect! She recorded the opening to my weekly program on Singapore radio, ‘Let’s Make Music’, in the late 1970s. And here it is:  

M opened ‘Let’s Make Music’, overdubbing & harmonising with her own voice
The Manasseh Sisters in song: M on rhythm guitar, Poppy on lead S’pore, early 1960s

M never really gave advice; she was more focused on listening intently on what you had to say – like a ‘master listener’ – so you would always feel special to be in her presence, knowing what you had to say was very important to her. I loved her sense of humour. I miss her dearly, and can’t yet come to terms with her being gone. 

Forever young in our hearts
Forever young in our thoughts
Forever in our music, where your music will live on for all generations to follow!

We think you’re just SENSATIONAL, ‘M’! 🎤🎶🎸

From Susanna:

I remember Aunt Margaret as a woman who loved life and loved music, and who always presented herself with so much poise. She had a gentle and loving nature. When she sang, it was with all the love that was in her heart. As we grew up in a family of singers and musicians, there was this time I specifically remember when my cousin Gloria and I (aged 13) went to a gig with Margaret and cousin Shirley who were singing with their band at the Singapore RAF Army Base. Both Gloria and I were on stage with them playing the maracas and tambourines – and we had a ball! Since that time, I learned the guitar and in no time at all, I too started playing music professionally. I would say that our music careers were really very much influenced by Margaret. I believe our families will always have singing and music in our homes throughout the generations to come.

Thank you Margaret for sharing your beautiful voice and music with us, and with so many people internationally all these years, and for triggering that spark of music into my life!

From Natalie:

(Left) M, Joyce, M’s sister Paula & Natalie S’pore, 1978

I will always remember the first time I met my aunt Margaret. I was 8 years old, growing up with much of our family living in Singapore. 

Margaret came to Singapore in 1970 for the first time since I’d been born, after she had migrated to Australia. During her visit, I happened to find a crushed dollar bill on the ground. I was so gleefully enamored and smitten by this lovely, younger and hip Aussie aunt, that I picked the dollar up and lovingly enclosed it in a ‘love-letter’ to her – in the way 8-year-olds do to family members they love. I remember how touched she was by it, and saved it for a $1 bingo ticket that week at a local recreation club. As luck would have it – or maybe it was simply the energy of love and abundance attached to the gift – she won the grand bingo prize of $1,000! 

Needless to say, the whole family was treated to a lovely weekend lunch, while I was shyly designated “star of the afternoon” by her. 

Margaret was a beautiful, warm, loving, smart and witty lady with a gentle nature whom we all loved!

From Efrem:

I grew up with my beautiful and elegant aunt Margaret in Sydney during the ’60s and ’70s. My childhood and teenage years were spent with her always being a living, loving presence nearby; an enduringly calm and deeply caring figure in the background of my formative life. I only ever heard kindness and encouragement fall from Margaret’s lips, and not once did she utter a hard or unkind word to me in all the years we spent together on this earth.

Efrem, M & Shirley – Noosa, 2017

After spending much time away, I had the distinct privilege of reconnecting with Margaret during her senior years in Tewantin, Queensland. Hence it was with great delight that I realized that she had grown far wiser and more insightful than I had ever known her to be. Margaret had become even more deeply loving than she was in earlier years. Her bright soul and sharp, beneficent and ethical mind shone for all to see. I knew then that the time-honored definition of enlightenment was true after all:

“True enlightenment is when a person has nothing left inside but love.”

From Dave:

Replica of M’s Akai multitrack reel recorder, 1970s

The divine, UNREAL (her pet word) ‘M’ was my aunt, godmother and mentor in music. Her rich contralto, gift for harmony, vocal arranging and multitrack recording on her Akai reel machine (as the one pictured) virtually ignited my desire to sing and perform. We both stuttered badly in childhood: singing helped us “smooth the words”. Sometimes I couldn’t even get her name out – but she always waited patiently until I did. Whilst untrained in classical music, she loved Brahms and Chopin, and would perfectly vocalise (or whistle) the exquisite melodies in Schubert’s Serenade and Chopin’s E major Etude. She always knew a “goosebump” tune or performer when she heard one! 

M had a great sense of humour and theatrics, setting me up for a practical joke when I was 4. Answering the urgent doorbell one wet night, I saw a terrifying woman with gapped buck-teeth resembling a certain ‘Emma S–’ (M was deft with orange peel). M was fun, fun, fun. At parties in the ’70s we’d play an ill-matched couple, where the tipsy husband would teeter an empty liquor bottle on his head and the wife would clutch a dyspeptic stomach. M would give a bold, powerful rendition of ‘If I Were A Rich Man’ – complete with Tevye-beard and clucks and squawks of farm birds. In 2017, she laughingly dubbed me “Mr Fu-Manchu” for my Manchurian? moustache …

‘Lyme Regis’ Apartments where Dave lived with M Sydney, 1979
Efrem, M & Fu-Manchu Noosa, 2017

We both so loved words. I once lived with M in Sydney; crosswords were everywhere, but mostly in the loo. We did cryptics together when I last saw her in 2017, and had (polarised) political debates. She kept up with PC-tech to the end – skyping, emailing and sending us all quality YouTubes of performers and musicians. 

A patient listener who would intuitively interject at the right moments, there isn’t anyone who hasn’t warmed (even spilled the beans) to M’s honeyed, coaxing tones when with her in person or on the phone. In the last few years she would always say to me how much she loved “all” her nieces and nephews, and wished “we could be together” like old times. More so in her illness, M lived in the now – as she herself sang in one of her signature songs: “Domani, forget domani … Let’s live for now, and anyhow who needs tomorrow? … ”

So for me and I know many of us, the name ‘Margaret’ will always be linked to the one and only ‘M’.

We’ll love & miss you FOREVER, Margaret … but as you often have the last word, please sing again with Shirley the song that meant so much to you!

‘Yesterday When I Was Young’ by Herbert Kretzmer and Charles Aznavour

M’s nieces & nephews Noosa, 2017
From left: Gloria, Efrem, Shirley, Susanna, Natalie & Dave; Joyce present in spirit (not the wine)

Credits

Thank You from Shirley to

Geoff, Joyce, Gloria, Susanna, Natalie, Efrem and Dave for expressing your thoughts so beautifully and digging deep for the photos. You have given M so much joy with your calls, emails and YouTube links to the music she loved. She got a kick out of learning new skills on her beloved computer – describing it as “unreal”!

Hans for providing a trove of photos and info about M and Poppy.

Lionel for his brilliance at restoring the quality of analogue cassette tapes and winning over digital (it’s possible).

Lina and Dave for putting this Tribute together with text, photos and audio files.

Andrew ‘The Master’ Oh for his flute on ‘Rum & Coca Cola’, ‘Quizas’ and sultry sax on ‘Rose Garden’ and ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon’. 

Noel ‘The Magician’ Elmowy from Inrock Studios Sydney, for his synthesised bass, steel drums,  percussion and piano on ‘Rum & Coca Cola’ and ‘Quizas’; sound editing and final remastering on those songs, ‘Let’s Make Music’ and ‘Yesterday When I Was Young’. 

Karaoke Version for backing tracks of ‘Quizas’, ‘Rum & Coca Cola’, ‘Rose Garden’ and ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon’.   

Acker Bilk & His Orchestra for ‘I’ll Get By’ (written by Fred E Ahlert) from the album ‘Clarinet Moods’. 

8 thoughts on “Tribute to Our Divine ‘M’

  1. Jung

    Dear Shirley

    What a beautiful loving family relationship you had with M .

    What a talented group of people and how you loved & cared for each other. You must miss M terribly.

    I can understand how sad you are but all of those beautiful memories stay with you forever.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories with us.

  2. rosblatt

    Although the last link to the previous generation has gone, thank the good Lord that the younger generation of this family are still making music. I also remember the good times even the few years I lived in Noosa, thanks to Honey moving there and me missing her terribly. Willy took M and G’s wedding on his Camera, no iPhone in those days, good memories. Yes I will miss the Sunday calls to Noosa, another era has passed.

  3. Philip COHEN

    Thanks Shirl for alerting me to this beautiful celebration. Seems there are a few very special folk that can’t be be erased by merely dying. Pxx

  4. Kerry

    So sorry for your loss Shirley she was certainly a character! What a life you all lived! Beautiful post well done to everyone Kerry xxxx

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Kerry thank you! It’s been hard to accept Margaret is no longer here, sending her YouTube links to ‘unreal’ vocalists and performers. At least one of us would call her every day – and she always ended our chats with “love you darling – take care of yourself and call me again soon!”

  5. Thank you Glo .. we are still recovering from the emotions we have felt putting this together. Margaret still seems to be here and we keep wanting to pick up the phone to ask her if she enjoyed hearing her songs again.

  6. Gloria Cnapich

    THANK YOU ALL – SHIRL, DAVID, LIONEL, GEOFF, HANS, JOYCE, NAT, SUE, EFREM, ANDREW’S BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, AND NOEL’S EXPERTISE – IN PUTTING THIS TOGETHER.

    A MORE FITTING TRIBUTE TO OUR MUSIC MATRIARCH – OUR DIVINE ‘M’ – I COULD NOT HAVE EVER IMAGINED.

    MAY THE LIGHT OF HER PURE ENLIGHTENED SOUL SHINE DOWN ON ALL OF US AND ON ALL HUMANITY FOR ALL TIME…AMEN.

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