Dinah Lee, New Zealand's original Entertainer of the Year became a star on both sides of the Tasman during the 1960s.
With her distinctive beat fashion sense and bob hairstyle, Lee shot to prominence with hits such as Reet Petite, Don't You Know Yockomo, and Do The Blue Beat.
During the Vietnam War Dinah Lee made two trips to South Vietnam. In 1966 she performed for New Zealand and Australian troops on a 5-day tour with the ABC Orchestra. The trip included performances in Vung Tau and Saigon, and a chance meeting with Hollywood actor, John Wayne. The following year she returned to South Vietnam as part of an 18-strong concert party-the largest to go to Vietnam from Australia.
In 1993 Roger Watkins interviewed Dinah Lee as part of the Alexander Turnbull Library's Pop Music Oral History Project. Listen to extracts about her experience in Vietnam here.
Extracts from an interview with Roger Watkins, 25 February 1993
Reproduced with the permission of Alexander Turnbull Library
I went to Vietnam first of all with an Australian singer, the late Digby Richards who was quite famous and we went over there with backing tapes and on the backs of trucks out – like up the frontline, everywhere.
Was that a move you made by choice?
I just went. Somebody wanted to take me there - a promoter, so I went. It was good PR, good publicity.
Did you not think of that?
No. Hey it was the sixties, it was fun. This was – it's sort of hard to [explain]. This was a new era. This was – I'm having fun here, you know look I'm enjoying myself, I'm flying high you know, I'm having a wonderful time.
What did you think of the Vietnam War – from a political point of view? Obviously you were aware of the protests?
Yes I was aware of it. Yes, of course. I was really not that politically into, you know, that. I was too busy, to do things. I was aware of everything but I went to Vietnam. I felt, you know - ok yes I will go over there. I felt, the Australians and New Zealanders – yes I'll go over and entertain them, which was just something I felt I wanted to do. So I did that. I also went again in '67 – this time I went for the Australian Government. I think I'm the only Kiwi that went for the Aussie Government...
...Today, I am so glad I did it because all through my life now, entertaining I've had people that have come up to me, you know, men saying like: ‘you don't know what that did for us'. You don't realise when you talk to these people – like I've done the Vietnam reunions just recently – you don't realise when you talk to these guys, you know, who are now, like, old men – they're older men now, grandfathers. Of course in those days they were 19, 20, 21 – kids.
You know, we were in the sixties having all this fun, then all of sudden whisked away to war, you know, it was this new era that everybody was - work was fabulous, everybody could get a job, everybody was young, everybody was making money, this new music. Girls were freer, men were freer – do you know what I mean? We sort of had a mind of our own. It was not; you're not allowed to do that. This was lifted, you were free – it was a free era. Then all of a sudden these young guys went to Vietnam, and of course that changed them forever, you know, and when you see them today; how they talk to you, and like they just still adore you and they'll be your fans forever...
...When I was there I had a ball, you know, I loved it. We were looked after – I mean to hell with all the, you know. You were treated as Generals, type of thing, bodyguards, you know they made things for you – if there wasn't a toilet they'd make one, you know for the girls. They'd do anything for you – beautiful food, looked after you, officers' mess, wonderful. They couldn't do enough for you. So that side of it – the fun side of it – yes. But then, you know, we'd go and visit the hospitals and the people that were – the young guys that had been injured, and you know, and then we saw that side of it. So, you got to see these young guys – they don't know, they've just come back and some of their mates hadn't with them, you know.
Alexander Turnbull Library Reference: Pop Music Oral History Project (OHColl-0485) Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this recording