Khánh Ly was born Nguyễn Thị Lệ Mai in Hanoi on 6 March 1945. Mai would fall asleep to her father's soothing singing which planted inside her a love for music. At the age of 9, she entered a contest in Hanoi singing Thơ Ngây. In 1956, she and her mother left Hanoi for South Vietnam. Later that year, Mai entered a children's talent-search contest in Saigon, and won 2nd prize singing Pham Duy's famous song, Ngày Trở Về. Her musical career began when she debuted at Club Anh Vũ on Bùi Viện Street in Saigon at the age of 17. She adopted the stage name Khánh Ly, a combination of Khánh Kỵ and Yêu Ly, characters from Chronicles of the Eastern Zhou Kingdoms, her favorite novel.
In late 1962, she relocated to Đà Lạt City and stayed there for 4 years performing at various clubs and resorts. She became the mother of 2 children during this period. In 1964, she met Trịnh Công Sơn, a young composer and a teacher at a school in Bảo Lộc. They quickly became friends. Trinh asked her on several occasions to accompany him in his performances in Saigon, but she couldn't leave her beautiful Da Lat.
In 1967, she ran into Trịnh on the busy streets of Lê Thánh Tôn. After several serenades and coffee, their musical collaboration begun. Within the next several decades, Khánh Ly and Trịnh Công Sơn sang together at small coffee shops, clubs, and even on the steps of Văn Khoa University. They took the Vietnamese music world by storm. Khanh Ly became the first Vietnamese woman to headline her own show, and the first Vietnamese singer to achieve international fame.
In 1975, Khánh 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, Khánh Ly's renowned status held her in good stead. Japan, particularly, embraced her. There, she was named one of the World's top 10 most famous people. She settled with her husband, in Cerritos, California.
Khánh 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 6 decades, Khánh Ly has left a legacy that she has written and is still writing for the next generation of Vietnam. Her one simple wish is "To breathe my last breath on the stage which gave me life...." On 9 May 2014, she had her first concert in Vietnam National Convention Center, Hanoi, at which she performed many famous songs of hers to thousands of fans.
A Happy Birthday Garden to Khanh Ly - from firefly, hoa tim, and chiron