Joseph KOO Ka-fai
2011 Honorary Doctorate
Joseph Koo Ka-fai, who was born in 1931 in Guangzhou Province in China, is one of the most respected composers in Hong Kong. Born into a scholarly family, he was the son of a painter and is a younger brother of Koo Mei, the famous Chinese singer and actress in the 1950s and 1960s. His interest in music came to him from his sister, and after learning to play the piano with a Philippino musician, he launched his musical career as a pianist and a bandleader working in a night club.
In 1961, his first published song “Dream” was chosen as the theme song of the film “Endless Love” and was sung by his sister Koo Mei for the film track. In the same year, Mr Koo went to study composition in the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Upon graduation, he returned to Hong Kong and worked for the Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest movie studios as a film music composer and arranger, winning awards for his compositions at major film festivals.
Mr Koo joined Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) when the television station commenced broadcasting in 1967. As music director, he composed for the variety show Enjoy Yourself Tonight.
Subsequently he focused his career on writing theme songs for TV series; in 1974, his theme song “Lovers’ Marriage” for the drama of the same name set off the boom in Hong Kong popular music. This song is regarded as the original Cantopop song and changed the music scene in Hong Kong, where most popular music had been dominated by adaptations of the melodies of foreign songs.
In 1981, Mr Koo went back to study music in the United States, and after his return to Hong Kong he continued to write music for TV dramas and advertisements.
Over the years, Mr Koo has composed more than 1,200 songs, including many memorable TV theme songs in collaboration with the late lyricist Mr Wong Jim, from TVB drama series Hotel, A House Is Not A Home, Conflict and Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber, among others. These songs reflected their times and are now considered to be classics of Cantopop, appreciated by both the intelligentsia and within the popular culture of Hong Kong.
In the 90s, Mr Koo went into retirement to live in Canada, but continues to contribute to Hong Kong’s musical life. In 2007, he wrote the theme song of “The Drive of Life”, TVB’s production to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the return of Hong Kong sovereignty to the mainland. In 2008 and 2010 he conducted the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra performing his music in the concerts “All-time Favourites by Joseph Koo”. In 2009 he was invited by the Hong Kong Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong (CASH) to be the adjudicator for its “CASH Song Writers Quest”.
Mr Koo has received numerous awards including the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1982 and the Bronze Bauhinia Star (BBS) from the Hong Kong Government in 1998. He has also received other awards including Music Accomplishment Award from CASH in 1997, Highest Honour Award (from RTHK Ten Best Chinese Music Programmes) in 1981, Best Music Award, Hong Kong Film Awards, Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival and many others. In 2011, Mr Koo was conferred the Life Achievement Award by the Arts Development Council for his “extraordinary and remarkable achievements and contributions to local music development.”