YOU will recognise Mary Ho as the granny who brought the house down at this year’s National Day Parade. The 81-year-old grandmother-turned-axeman gained local and international stardom after picking up the guitar at 60. Since then, she has been living many musicians' dream with an album and that unforgettable solo at the NDP. We chat with the coolest hard rock granny in Singapore.
The approachable rock star
When we first met Grandma Mary at her home, we were immediately (star)struck by her unassuming nature.
“Come on in, let me introduce you to my bros!” she said warmly.
Her “bros” are her band members, comprising guitarist Adil Hussein, 60; bassist Sammin Ang, 49; drummer Augustine Cheong, 42 and keyboardist Chris Cai, 33.
Rock on: Grandma Mary and her band jam at her place once a month (from left to right: Sammin, Mary, Chris, Adil and Augustine).
Despite the age difference, their love for music brought the five individuals together.
“Music connects people. I met my band mates, some at their performances and some through my friends. We came together to jam and perform for charity,” said Grandma Mary.
The grandmother of seven revealed that her outgoing personality helps her relate easily to others.
“I feel young, just like them!” she said with a chuckle.
Adil, who has known Grandma Mary for almost a decade, added: “Mary relates to us well and we enjoy learning from each other. I wish I can be like her when I reach her age... though that’s still a long way to go for me!”
Judging from the laughter and banter that flowed that afternoon, Grandma Mary is certainly a hit with her band mates.
The determined lifelong learner
Grandma Mary’s foray into music began after she was introduced to the music of guitar legend, Carlos Santana. She fell in love with the track “Samba Pa Ti” and was determined to play it on the electric guitar.
However, her guitar teacher was sceptical as she was not trained musically and could not read musical notes.
“He asked me to learn nursery rhymes first, but I said, ‘No, it has to be Carlos Santana’. He thought that I was too ambitious, but I insisted that he give me a chance. Eventually, he relented,” recalled Grandma Mary with a laugh.
To perfect her guitar skills, Grandma Mary played until her fingers bled. Within two months, she had made such great progress that she impressed her teacher. Now, she is able to perform her favourite guitar piece with confidence.
Grandma Mary’s zest for learning has won her many fans, including her band member Augustine. He said: “She is not only very inspiring to me, but to many of my friends too. It’s amazing how she’s still learning at her age. She’s always happy, always laughing!”
For Grandma Mary, the learning never stops. From the electric guitar, she went on to pick up other musical instruments like the drums, clavinova (digital piano) and keyboard. However, judging from the sparkly guitar pendant hanging on her chest, it’s clear the guitar is her first love.
“This is from Spain. I was there during my 70th birthday and my friend gave it to me as a birthday present. It’s my favourite because guitar is my love!”
Star-studded: Grandma Mary’s favourite guitar pendant – a birthday present from Spain.
When asked how she maintains her zest for life, Grandma Mary explained: “If you love what you are doing, you will do it without feeling tired. Do what you love and that will give you a lifetime of happiness.”
Well said, Grandma Mary. Rock on!
Watch Grandma Mary and band perform her favourite piece, Carlos Santana’s classic “Samba Pa Ti”, here.
Also, watch as Grandma Mary answers four questions from her fans here.