Sudirman Haji Arshad, or "Sudi" to his fans, was born in Temerloh, Pahang, to Haji Arshad bin Haji Hassan and Puan Hajjah Ramlah binti Dahlan on the 25th of May 1954.
His mother was a very active woman in politics and as a Kaum Ibu (UMNO) leader, she was involved in the independence movement for then Malaya.
She is depicted in the Pahang Heroes Museum as one of the women leaders who contributed her efforts to the state and country.
She died at the young age of 33 in 1959, when Sudirman was about five years old, after a short illness.
Sudirman’s father, the late Haji Arshad was a manager of the Syarikat Bas Temerloh (Temerloh Bus Company), and like his wife, was an active UMNO politician in Temerloh, Pahang. He re-married after his wife died.
Sudirman attended primary school at Sekolah Kebangsaan Tanjung Lallang, Temerloh and higher secondary education at Sekolah Sultan Abu Bakar (SABS) in Kuantan. He went on to do his tertiary education at University of Malaya for his law degree, and graduated with a Bachelor in Law (LL.B) in 1980.
He practiced as a lawyer after being called to the Bar, and during his singing career, he was also known as "the Singing Lawyer".
Sudi is the youngest in the family. His eldest brother is Zainuddin, followed by Rodziah, Rohaini, Basir and Ruslan.
Rodziah (Datin), a University Malaya (in Singapore then) graduate in the 1960s, worked with Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, and is married to Datuk Zainuddin Dato’ Awang Ngah, a distinguished career civil servant (now retired) who was the Administrator of the Labuan Federal Territory during its early years.
One of Datin Rodziah’s children, affectionately called Atai, was close to his uncle Sudirman, and in fact as a child singer, had a song album produced by his favorite uncle.
Dr. Ruslan is a medical doctor, formerly with the government hospitals, but now running his own private medical clinic. And Basir, his nickname actually, was one of the general managers of Felda (Federal Land Development Authority) until his recent retirement.
Sudirman married his childhood sweetheart but they divorced a few years later. He has no children.
Sudirman’s singing career started after he won the Bintang RTM singing contest in 1986. He went on to win numerous awards for his songs which were popular and topped the charts not only in Malaysia but also in Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia.
Unlike most Malay singers, Sudirman excelled and can sing in style, fluency and polish in both Bahasa Malaysia and the English language.
He did Malaysia proud when he put up one of his best singing performances at the 1st Asian Popular Music Awards organized in conjunction with the Salem Music Awards Festival, held at the Royal Albert Hall, London, on the 19th of March, 1989. He emerged as the Best Asian Entertainer there.
As the Malaysian representative, he won against the likes of Leslie Cheung (Hong Kong), Anita Sarawak (Singapore), Kuh Ledesma (Phillippines) and other distinguished performers and top singers from 8 other Asian countries, namely, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Phillippines, China and Singapore.
He sang two English songs for the contest – "A Thousand Million Smiles" and "Send in the Clown". His captivating performance imitating Charlie Chaplin in the second song won him many admirers.
Sudirman also traveled the world and fulfilled singing invitations from overseas, including in Hawaii, Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
He was appointed a "Singing Ambassador" by the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism, singing the delightful and catchy theme song written by Carol Connors, "To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia".
Perhaps his most memorable performance for his Malaysian fans took place at Chow Kit Road in the middle of Kuala Lumpur. It was an open air, street concert in conjunction with National Day, and it attracted about 100,000 fans.
This Chow Kit Road street performance with packed crowds filling every inch of the road, has never been matched by any other Malaysian singer or entertainer since.
Many Malaysians also remember Sudirman as the singer who likes to wear, during National Day, his specially-made dress draped in the Malaysian flag as he sang his songs, showing his patriotic zeal to the nation for all to see. His patriotic, soul-inspiring song "31 Ogos 1957" is always played in the media every year when Malaysia celebrates National Day.
In a short career due to his untimely death, he had more than 70 songs, with many topping popularity charts. His last album in 1992 was titled "Salam Terakhir" ( or "Last Greetings").
In his weekly television shows, Sudirman also showed his talent and ability as an artist. Many a times, he would invite one of his audiences to sit and model, while he sang a song and at the same time take out his paint brushes or art pencil, and sketch or draw the person’s profile.
At the end of the song he would have finished his sketch or painting, and the end result shown to the cameras and audience. This talent and skill in simultaneously singing and drawing is not unlike the genius and artistic talent of the popular Australian singer in the 1980’s, Rolf Harris.
Sudirman also acted in a film. He had his first (and only) film role in the film "Kami" in 1982. He took the role of a young boy in the film, and his portrayal received commendable reviews.
Besides being an accomplished singer he was also a good writer, and wrote a few books. In fact his book written for children titled "Taming Si Budak Pintar" in 1992 won the Mobil-Mabopa contest (a Mobil Oil book writing contest).
He also wrote frequently and had weekly and monthly columns in the Malay newspapers and some local entertainment magazines. His artistic talent also saw him contributing sketches and cartoons for publication in the local magazines.
As a commercial entrepreneur, he endorsed and was appointed ambassador of many high profile products, like Proton and Malaysia Airlines. His business ventures include selling a state-of-the-art, wrap-around, flexible sunglasses and a carbonated canned drink (with variety of tastes) under the "Sudi" brand. He also started an apparel franchise shop under the "Sudi Shoppe" brand signage.
All the business ventures, however, came to a stop following his untimely demise.
Sudirman was stricken with a disease that was more of the spiritual kind rather than physical.
In the Malay world, such illness is believed to be generated through black magic or witch-craft by a bomoh. Modern medical and specialist doctors (including his medical doctor brother Dr. Ruslan) couldn’t remedy or find the source of his ailment.
It is said that during his illness, while under the care of his sister, Datin Radiah, he would scream every time the clock strikes twelve midnight.
And during those times, at his sister’s house, they would find some strange things like a dead rat or strips of colored papers and other unexplained items strewn into the house compound.
In the Malay world, the art of black magic is still alive although not as active as in the old days, and it is still possible to do misery to people.
These bad practices are done by those with dirty, uncivilised hearts, without faith in religion and who will only live to regret in later life.
Stricken by this mysterious disease, Sudirman Haji Arshad died at 4.00 in the morning on the 22nd of February 1992, aged 37, at his sister’s (Datin Radiah) house, at Lucky Garden, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.
He was brought back for burial in his hometown Temerloh, Pahang and was buried at the Tanah Perkuburan Islam Chengal, Temerloh, near the graves of his parents.
GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN
Sudirman Haji Arshad -- a singer cum entertainer extraordinaire, a polished pearl in the Malaysian entertainment scene, and a precious product of the state of Pahang is, sadly, long gone.
But he lives in the hearts and memories of those who knew him, in his lively and delightful performances and in the beautiful songs he wrote and sang.
Every year during Hari Raya Aidil Fitri festival, we will hear his popular songs, "Balik Kampung" and "Dari Jauh Ku Pohon Maaf " on the radio and television, and sung and hummed by the young and old -- really everlasting favorites that characterize the happy go-lucky but sometimes sad persona of the singer himself.
Like his mother, Sudirman is depicted in the Pahang Heroes Museum in Kuantan for his contributions in the field of arts and culture to his state and country.
More of his information and personal artifacts, like the costumes worn, sketches, and songs album covers can be seen and exhibited at the Galeri Tokoh in Temerloh.
He was posthumously conferred the Darjah Sultan Ahmad Shah Pahang (DSAP) which carries the title "Datuk" in conjunction with the 78th birthday anniversary of the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah on Oct 24, 2008.
The Datukship award, conferred by Sultan Ahmad Shah at an investiture at Istana Abu Bakar, was received by his eldest sister, Datin Rodziah Arshad.
Well, to the fans, young and old, of the late Datuk Sudirman Haji Arshad, he was, and perhaps still is, the Malaysian number one singer cum entertainer, a performer extraordinaire quite irreplaceable in the Malaysian scene.
As always, from me...