Singer Phi Nhung, a charitable celebrity mired in controversies 

Gone but not forgotten, singer Phi Nhung is one of the few Vietnamese artists whose name is still trending & triggering heated debates on Vietnamese social media after her death.

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For the past couple of months, Vietnam’s internet has become a hall of shame for local celebrities with allegedly seedy charitable activities – with singer Phi Nhung in the foreground. After two decades of doing charity work, she faced the greatest stigma in her three-decade-long career after netizens had accused her of abusing her adopted son for money. From the time of her Covid-19 diagnosis until her death one month ago, her personal life had been mired in one controversy after another. 

In this article, we’ll bring you the story of Phi Nhung, one of Vietnam’s most well-received artists who recently died of Covid-19. 

1. Singer Phi Nhung was a Vietnamese-American orphan

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Image credit: Vietnamnet

Born in 1970 in Gia Lai, Phi Nhung was of mixed race and single-handedly raised by her mom in her earlier years. Her mother was a Vietnamese tailor, while her dad was a US citizen. When Phi Nhung was 11, her mother passed away & her financially hard-up family could no longer afford her education. So she quit school, moved in with her grandmother’s family, và earned a living as a tailor.

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Phi Nhung in her 20sImage credit: giáo dục đào tạo Thời Đại


In the late 90s và early 2000s, she became a household name in many parts of Vietnam & her albums were among the best-selling ones of the decade. 

At age 19, Phi Nhung immigrated to lớn Tampa, Florida. While singing karaoke playfully at her acquaintance’s house, her crisp và melodic voice caught the ears of Trizzie Phuong Trinh, an influential local artist, who happened to lớn be there. Heeding Trizzie’s advice, Phi Nhung moved to California, home to the largest Vietnamese population in the US, to lớn pursue a career as a singer specializing in Vietnamese country music. 

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Image credit: Thuy Nga

Within a short time, she became famous among Vietnamese audiences all over the world thanks to lớn her rare singing voice và stunning appearance. 

2. She did charity work tirelessly và adopted 23 children

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Image credit: Thanh Niên

Phi Nhung’s journey as a philanthropist started in 1997, when she returned to lớn Vietnam for the first time. From donating money lớn the vulnerable elderly in nursing homes to lớn funding the constructions of schools and clinics, Phi Nhung had travelled many parts of Vietnam for charity work. 

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Phi Nhung helping the needy in IndiaImage credit: Thanh Niên

As an orphan who didn’t have equal schooling opportunities lượt thích other kids had, Phi Nhung had long harbored a passion for helping vulnerable kids. 

That’s why she was motivated khổng lồ adopt and raise 23 underprivileged kids from different ages, most of whom were orphans. Some of them lived under the same roof with her in her home in Saigon. The others live in Phước Lạc Pagoda in Bình Phước where they have been raised lượt thích little monks. 

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Image credit: sức khỏe Đời Sống

For this reason, many people have had the impression that Phi Nhung didn’t have any kids of her own. In fact, she had one biological daughter named Wendy Pham, who lives in the US and is a well-trained nurse. According to lớn Phi Nhung, she used her income from singing to support her daughter’s college tuition, while the revenues from her vegetarian restaurant in Saigon were used to raise her adopted kids. 

3. She was accused of milking her adopted son’s singing income

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Phi Nhung và Hồ Văn CườngImage credit: Vietnamnet

Throughout a successful career that spanned over two decades, Phi Nhung hadn’t had any scandals until the final year of her life. 

In early June 2021, messages from her adopted son hồ Văn Cường to a fan hâm mộ were leaked onto social media. In his conversation, he allegedly said that his adopted mother was a devil in disguise and that she wouldn’t let him move out


This incident shocked many people and set the mạng internet on fire for many months on end, because everyone had thought that their relationship, as mother & son or mentor và student, was perfect. Or at least that’s what they showed on their Facebook posts and on performance stages.

Here is some background information for your understanding. 

18-year-old hồ Văn Cường is not an orphan, but a talented singer from an underprivileged family in a rural part of southern Vietnam. Discovered by Phi Nhung at a singing contest in 2016, he was adopted by the late singer so that he could have a better future in Saigon. His parents were also invited to come live under the same roof with her, where they got paid for doing house chores và helping out at her vegetarian restaurant.

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Performing on the stage of Paris By NightImage credit: Thuy Nga

Red carpets started to lớn roll out for hồ Văn Cường, who went from a country boy to a well-groomed singer who performed with one of the top country music singers in Vietnam’s modern history. With her connections, Phi Nhung arranged for hồ Văn Cường khổng lồ perform with her in Paris By Night, the largest & most prestigious musical stage in the eyes of Vietnamese communities all over the world. 

Therefore, many audiences had the idea that hồ Văn Cường must have earned a lot of money due to lớn his domestic & overseas gigs & that Phi Nhung had been milking hồ Văn Cường for money. 

Hồ Văn Cường & Phi Nhung held a press conference lớn address their matters immediately after that. Phi Nhung explained that she would let her adopted son move out at the age of 18 và even support him financially if he wanted her to, and Hồ Văn Cường apologized khổng lồ her for his impulsive actions. 

However, netizens wouldn’t let this issue go. One thing led to another, many even accusing her of using charity work for her own gain. 

4. She died of Covid-19 while doing charity work in Saigon

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Image credit: Nld

Despite facing enormous criticism from netizens back then, Phi Nhung was adamant khổng lồ continue doing charity work instead of leaving like many US passport holders in Saigon back then. 


“Saigon is being hit hard. If I stay, maybe I can still be of use.” She explained lớn a friend.

While tons of people rushed khổng lồ the airport before the lockdown order officially started, Phi Nhung fearlessly fired up her kitchen to lớn cook. Hundreds of meals were made in her kitchen daily & were sent lớn both frontliners & the homeless. Her friends advised her to lớn get vaccinated, but she said that she would get the jabs once she returned to the US, because Vietnam was “having a shortage of vaccines”.

And lượt thích many F&B workers who volunteered during this period, Phi Nhung contracted Covid-19 and was hospitalized in late August. 

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Image credit: Nld

When news of her conditions broke out, many netizens flooded her Facebook with harassing messages & cursed at her, wishing for her death. 

On 28th September, she passed away from Covid-19 complications at Chợ Rẫy Hospital. 

She was posthumously praised by President of Vietnam, Mr Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, for her heroic deeds during the Covid-19 pandemic.

5. Her funeral took place in the US

Image adapted from: Thuy Nga

Due to lớn the Covid-19 safety rules, her toàn thân had been cremated before it was escorted back khổng lồ the US.

On 13th October, her funeral was organized in Garden Grove, California, where thousands of people from all parts of the US attended it. Many of singer Phi Nhung’s colleagues shared their memories with her & talked about how genuine she was.


Some didn’t forget lớn lament the cruelty of numerous netizens, who had accused her of despicable wrongdoings. They noted that nobody who had participated in charity work with her had raised questions about her ethics, and yet many people were spreading rumors about her without evidence. 

Phi Nhung’s mental well-being had been severely affected in the last months of her life, as her friend revealed later on in a talk with Thúy Nga Paris By Night, which could have significantly weakened her immune system. A few days before Phi Nhung’s funeral, extreme YouTubers and netizens were still harassing her family and manager about the issue of hồ Văn Cường’s money.

6. Netizens are still divided over her case

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Image credit: Tiền Phong

Just recently, Phi Nhung’s manager revealed that hồ Văn Cường’s prize money, which amounted lớn VND180,000,000 (~USD8,000) after tax, had been kept by his biological mother since day one. Phi Nhung had not kept his prize money like what many people accused her of doing. 

It remained unclear why Phi Nhung’s manager, who has been in charge of Phi Nhung’s money, didn’t reveal this information sooner. Many people also wondered why hồ nước Văn Cường và his mother kept mum about this detail until after Phi Nhung had died, causing the singer lớn carry the blame to lớn the grave. Therefore, many people have vented their frustrations on hồ Văn Cường, calling him ungrateful. Meanwhile, some stand in his defense.

Phi Nhung’s manager announced that she had recently settled all the financial matters with hồ Văn Cường & he would move out soon, according to lớn Pháp pháp luật Plus. hồ Văn Cường also received an extra VND500,000,000 (~USD21,977), a gift promised by Phi Nhung when she was alive. 

Even until today, the scandal surrounding Phi Nhung và her adopted son is still causing debates on social media. 

7. Her last dream was lớn build a Vietnamese school in the US

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Wendy PhamImage adapted from: Thuy Nga

Even though she moved khổng lồ the US in her teenage years, Phi Nhung had always been fervent about raising her daughter to speak Vietnamese fluently và going the extra mile to ensure that her grandchildren speak Vietnamese while at home. She had always dreamed of building a Vietnamese school in the US where Vietnamese-American kids can learn the Vietnamese language & culture. 

During the last years of her life, the late singer had been engaged in raising funds & planning the establishment of a Vietnamese school in a Buddhist monastery in California, where her family lives. For this reason, her family members have expressed their determination to carry on her legacy.

Speaking with Thúy Nga Paris By Night on 19th October, Wendy Pham, Phi Nhung’s daughter, offered more insights into the family’s plans. The total amount of contributions that the family received at Phi Nhung’s funeral amounted to lớn USD72,000. 

Half of the money would be donated to lớn the construction of the Vietnamese school, while the remaining would be used to tư vấn Covid-19 patients in Vietnam.

The dead can’t defend themselves

As Asians, many of us believe we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead lest they can’t rest in peace. Nonetheless, singer Phi Nhung unfortunately became an exception. As people are still talking about her, even when she’s not around to lớn defend herself. 

No family is without conflicts or misunderstandings, so it’s tragic lớn see one’s private matters blown out of proportion and distorted by strangers. 

This issue has also drawn attention to lớn a darker aspect of social truyền thông media – cyberbullying. In this digital age, there’s no escaping the harsh scrutiny and biased analyses of audiences and online streamers who thrive on hot scoops & even giả news. Let’s refrain from judging a person when we don’t know their full story.

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May Phi Nhung rest in peace và her pending dreams be realized by her family members.

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