Khanh Ly, born Nguyen Le Mai (Mai Nguyen) on March 6, 1945 to a traditional family, grew up in the northern regions of Vietnam. As a child, she would fall asleep to her father’s soothing voice. His serenades planted inside her a love for music, which grew stronger every day against her family’s wishes. In 1954, at the age of 9, she entered a small contest in the city of Hanoi singing Tho Ngay; she did not win.
By 1956, she accompanied her mother to the southern regions of Vietnam. At the end of that very same year, she secretly entered a children’s talent-search contest produced by Phap-A production at Norodom Stage in Saigon. Mai traveled to the contest by sneaking into the back of transport trucks and hitching a ride from Da Lat City to Saigon. She won second prize singing Pham Duy’s famous song, Ngay Tro Ve. Mai lost to child-star Quoc Thang who would also later become an iconic figure in the music world. She was only 11.
Mai’s musical career did not officially begin until she debuted at Club Anh Vu on Bui Vien Street in Saigon when she was only 17 (1962). At this point, she adopted the stage name Khanh Ly, a combination of KhanhKy and Yeu Ly, both are characters from Three Countries, her favorite novel. By the end of 1962, she relocated to Da Lat and stayed there for four years performing at various clubs and resorts. Night after night, she serenaded lovers, tourists, and the youths of Vietnam.
On a rainy night in 1964, she met Trinh Cong Son (TCS), at that time a young composer, at a club in Da Lat. They became fast friends. Fascinated by her seductive voice, Trinh had asked her on several occasions to accompany him in his performances in Saigon. Still in love with the romantic hills of Da Lat, she declined.
During a trip to Saigon in 1967, she ran into Trinh on the busy streets of Le Thanh Ton. After several serenades and coffee at a small shop called Quan Van, the legacy of Khanh Ly and Trinh Cong Son has begun.
Within the next several decades, Khanh Ly and Trinh Cong Son sang together at small coffee shops, clubs, and even on the steps of Van Khoa University in Saigon (a liberal arts school). During the escalation of an unwanted and bloody war, his anti-war lyrics in the Yellow-Skin Songs and her luring voice appealed to those who grew weary of the battles and bloodshed; their plea for peace propelled them to the top. From the educating fields of large universities to the unknown and endless farm lands, she was heard, known, and hailed as « Nu Hoang Chan Dat, » or « Nu Hoang San Co. » Together, Khanh Ly and Trinh Cong Son took the Vietnamese music world by storm. Their phenomenal fame gave her the chance to be the first Vietnamese woman to headline her own show. During the late 60s to early 70s, she also collaborated with multiple production companies and played a large part on the recorded tracks from famous videos such as the Pham Manh Cuong Program, Truong Son Centre, Son Ca Productions, Hoa Mi, Jo Marcel Productions, etc.
Up until her emigration in 1975, Khanh Ly achieved unproportional fame around the world. She opened Club Khanh Ly on Tu Do Street in Saigon along with a small shop named Hoi Quan Cay Tre, a gathering place for musicians and students alike. In addition, she was sponsored by the Vietnamese government to hold performances in Europe in order to promote the worldwide collaboration of the rising generation of Vietnamese students (« Noi Vong Tay Lon »). She also performed in the United States, Canada, and Japan at Osaka Fair in response to the invitation from Nippon Columbia Label (a large production company). Here, she recorded an album, featuring TCS’s songs Diem Xua and Ca Dao Me (sang in both languages), which went gold shortly after its debut. These songs became top hits in Japan and remained so for several decades. Khanh Ly was the first Vietnamese singer to achieve international fame.
In 1975, Khanh Ly, along with thousands of Vietnamese refugees, crossed the Pacific Ocean and settled in America. Like many, she struggled to find jobs on American soil to provide for her four children. Even though the first few years were difficult, Khanh Ly’s renowned status did not fade from the music world. Within the late 70s and throughout the 80s, Khanh Ly was invited back to Japan on numerous occasions by Nippon Columbia Label, Toci Film, and Japans largest television station to record and perform. Her second record with Nippon Columbia (1979) went gold short after its release; there were 2 million copies sold in Japan alone. Her third and final album with Nippon also featured classic hits such as Wondering Man. In addition, both Toci Film and Japans largest television station featured her voice in the theme song to several movies and television series regarding Vietnam’s culture as well as the « Boat People » phenomenon; her most notable recording was « Loi Ru Cho Da Nang » in 1987, music by Japanese artist Hako and words by former newspaper editor and Khanh Ly’s husband, Nguyen Hoang Doan. She was also featured in the Asian Music Festival held in Japan along with famous singers from Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the South Pacific. Her fame in Japan continued to escalate when she was named one of the top 10 most famous people along the same line as Gandhi, Gucci, Martin Luther King Jr.s wife, etc… In 1996, Japans television station NKH and famous producer Hideo Kado produced a short 50-minute documentary about the life of Khanh Ly which aired on April 29, 1997, 22 years from the day she left Saigon. In September of that year, NKH also published a 270-page biography about Khanh Ly.
In the later part of the 80s and early 90s, Khanh Ly traveled vigorously and performed in Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and in a concert in East Germany after the Berlin Wall was taken down in 1989. Being a devout Catholic, she also sang at many church-sponsored events in which her most memorable performance was at the Canonization of 117 Vietnamese Priests in Vatican City (1988) where she met Pope John Paul II. In 1992, during the World’s Youth Festival in Denver Colorado, Khanh Ly had the honor of meeting the Pope a second time. In 1996, she, several other renowned singers, and song writer Tram Tu Thieng hosted a Charity Concert in order to raise money to build houses/shelters for 2000 Vietnamese refugees in the Phillipines. They raised 2 million dollars, enough to establish a Vietnamese Village on a small island off of the coast of the Phillipines.
Today, 32 years later , she is living comfortably with her husband, former newspaper editor/writer Nguyen Hoang Doan in Cerritos, California, recording for Thuy Nga-Paris by Night, Asia, May Productions, etc., touring the world, and co-owns her own production company, Khanh Ly Productions, which has produced more than 30 CDs, 4 videos, and several DVDs to date. Aside from her paid performances, she is also writing weekly columns to various Vietnamese newspaper and magazines throughout the world (Hon Viet, Van Nghe Tu Do, Van Nghe Magazine, Thoi Bao, Bao Mai, etc.). Khanh Ly has also devoted the majority of her time to humanitarian acts and charitable organizations for Vietnamese orphans as well as Vietnamese refugees around the world.
For the past six decades, Khanh Ly has left a breathtaking legacy that she has written and is still writing for the next generation of Vietnam. She found music boldly, imprinted in history an irreplaceable voice that knows no parallel, and dazzled the world with her graceful, witty, and humble personality. For someone who is the voice of generations, she has only one simple wish:
« To breathe my last breath on the stage which gave me life…. »
These are her aspirations… this is her life.
 « Nu Hoang Chan Dat » is roughly translated as « Barefooted Empress » coined because Khanh Ly never wears shoes.
 « Nu Hoang San Co » is « Empress of the Fields »
Source : Official Khanh Ly Website