Little Saigon Bids Farewell to a Beloved Troubadour

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Grace Le
Tue Tri Nguyen (Laguna Niguel) and Nhan Vo (Virginia)
Yesterday, Little Saigon was struck by the abrupt passing of a generational icon. An illustrious composer and prominent player in Vietnamese-American media, Quang Duc Nguyen died early Sunday morning at the age of 67, just hours before a solidarity concert meant to show community support for his recovery from an earlier stroke on Feb. 11 (his birthday).

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Grace Le
Supporters listen to the songs of Quang Duc Nguyen.

Nguyen's passing transformed the event into a memorial concert; by 3 p.m., Santa Ana's Emerald Bay Restaurant was packed beyond capacity with supporters who flew in from across the country to commemorate Nguyen's venerable career and contribution to the Vietnamese community.​

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Grace Le
Tam Nguyen (San Jose)
​The atmosphere was almost frenetic--an amalgam of situational shock, grief and celebration as friends and artists took the stage to perform covers of Nguyen's most popular songs. Despite the concert's solemn context, the uplifting and unifying spirit inherent in much of Nguyen's music compelled the audience to sing, clap and cheer from their seats as they listened to the familiar anthems of their youth. 

Between performances, many of Nguyen's friends told intimate stories of how their lives had been directly affected by him as both a musician and a man. Not only did he manage to manifest the voice of the 1960s Vietnamese youth through his art, but he also spent decades as a community advocate, working to preserve cultural solidarity and organizing numerous charity events, including benefit shows for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

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Grace Le
Truc Bao Bui
​At the age of 21, Nguyen was one of the first popular artists in Vietnam to use music as a means to express the feelings of those who had become agitated under the constant pressure of foreign occupation. Performing on various university campuses across the country, Nguyen gave momentum to the Du Ca movement (a form of folk performance) which inspired students to rally together and sing songs of unity and national pride, while at the same time voicing disillusionment.

Following the release of his first song book, Tram Ca, his popularity among patriotic youth activists skyrocketed, and he maintained a prolific career, composing hundreds of songs, the most popular of which remains the galvanizing anthem, "Viet Nam Que Huong Ngao Nghe".

After the fall of Saigon in '75, Nguyen was detained in a reeducation camp for a number of years. In '79, he managed to flee Vietnam by boat to Malaysia and was eventually sponsored to California, where he immediately began contributing as an editor and CEO of the then-budding Nguoi Viet newspaper. Under his watch, the publication grew from a weekly into a daily and is now the most widely distributed Vietnamese-language newspaper in the United States. 

All the while, Nguyen remained an active member of the International Central Committee of Vietnamese Scouting (ICCVS), participating frequently in cross-cultural retreats to inspire cultural solidarity and preserve Vietnamese heritage within emerging generations. ​

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Grace Le
Quang Duc Nguyen's son, Tuong Nguyen, accepting the Polaris Medal on his father's behalf.

Representatives of the ICCVS, including Nhan Vo (chairman) and Tue Tri Nguyen (general secretary), traveled to Orange County to bestow their highest honor, the Polaris Medal, upon the composer for a lifetime of outstanding dedication and contribution to community building. 

"This is a very rare honor," stated Nhan Vo. "There have only been about 45 of these medals awarded in the history of the ICCVS. I flew in overnight from Virginia to be here. I remember learning and singing Quang Duc Nguyen's songs around a campfire when I was 14. It was so exciting for me to go from that to working alongside him. The wonderful thing about Quang Duc Nguyen is that he didn't just sing about changing the world for good. He worked to accomplish it. This is really a historic moment for us." 

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Grace Le
A fan crouches in the corner of the packed venue.
​In the midst of family, friends and members of the media, a number of longtime admirers crouched in various corners of the venue for lack of sufficient seating. One elderly woman had walked from her home in Westminster to attend the memorial concert. 

With the abrupt nature of Nguyen's death, the number of attendants at this weekend's memorial services can only be expected to increase as more supporters learn of his passing and mobilize to pay homage to a beloved artist and respected member of the Vietnamese community.

Funeral Schedule for Composer Quang Duc Nguyen

Saturday, April 2:
Location: Lakeside Chapel, Westminster memorial Park
4pm: Service
5pm-7pm: Viewing

Location: 14771 Moran St., Westminster
5pm-6pm: Nguoi Viet Newspaper will host a memorial for NDQ at the company office.

Sunday, April 3:
Location: Lakeside Chapel, Westminster Memorial Park
Viewing: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
 
Monday, April 4:
Location: Lakeside Chapel, Westminster memorial Park
Final Viewing: 9 a.m.-11 a.m.
Casket Transport: 11:30 a.m.
Cremation: 12:30 p.m.


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