GEORGE TOWN: Ooi Eow Jin (pix) had a shock when his name was included in the Penang state awards list.
The musician, composer and songwriter is to be conferred with the Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri state award, which carries the title Datuk.
But, he did not know about it. He only discovered his award after reading The Star Online’s news headlined “Auditor-General, musician Ooi Eow Jin conferred Penang awards”.
“I am caught between happiness and excitement. I’m going to buy a new suit and I will be all ready to attend the investiture ceremony on Thursday,” he said from Petaling Jaya by phone Monday.
Ooi’s family friend Jimmy Yeoh said the Penang Government did not have Ooi’s current address, so they could not notify him.
“Lucky thing The Star Online put him on the headlines,” Yeoh laughed, adding that the Datukship was “long-overdue” for the musical luminary.
Yeoh and Ooi’s wife Elaine will accompany him to receive his award from the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas.
At 77, Ooi’s hearing is failing him. He had played his last performance in June as a pianist at The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur.
His era of fame is a story about braving uncharted waters.
Yeoh said Penang-born Ooi was a government clerk and also a resident pianist at E&O Hotel in 1963.
His talent with the ivory keys was soon spotted and he received an offer to join RTM Orchestra.
“There was no Internet and no DVDs. RTM Orchestra was our country’s grandest source of music back then,” Yeoh said.
He said some friends had chided Ooi for leaving a government job for a chancy musical career, but “there was no stopping him. Music is in his soul”.
Ooi’s career soared from there on. He composed, arranged and played music for stars like Tan Sri P. Ramlee, Sudirman, Rafeah Buang, Dahlan Zainuddin, Jennifer Yen, Francis Yip, the Alleycats and Salamiah Hassan.
“He learnt everything himself and began writing and arranging music from a young age,” Paul Augustin, co-author of the book Just for the Love of It: Popular Music in Penang, 1930s-1960s, had described Ooi.
But Ooi’s story is also that of the sad, unknown musician, whose music everyone knew while he remained unheard of but to a few.
Ooi now lives with his wife Elaine and his son, who survived a brain tumour operation, in a rented home shared with other less fortunate souls in SS2, Petaling Jaya.
Word of his plight spread to his fans and former colleagues, who organised a fund-raising concert for him last month and collected RM82,371.
Augustin said Ooi was every singer’s best friend and he was the one of the most sought-after composer in his heydays.
“Everyone in the musical community is ecstatic now that he is to made a Datuk,” Augustin added.