Gordon Tobing

Gordon Lumban Tobing (27 August 1925 – 13 January 1993) was an Indonesian singer of folk songs, particularly those in the Batak language. Born to a Batak family in Medan, North Sumatra, Tobing moved to Jakarta in 1950 and began working in the entertainment industry. While with Radio Republik Indonesia, he participated in an Indonesian cultural envoy to the 4th World Festival of Youth and Students. Over the remainder of his life Tobing was included in numerous similar envoys, ultimately travelling to five continents.

Tobing was born in Medan, North Sumatra, on 27 August 1925. He was the second of four children born to Rumulus Lumban Tobing, a musician, and his wife Frieda Hutabarat. As their father and paternal grandfather, Lamsana, were active members of their church congregation, the Tobing siblings (Douglas, Gordon, Nelson, and Adella) grew up in a household where church music was often sung and became interested in music from a young age. All four of the siblings became singers, and Gordon took up the guitar. When Rumulus took a job in Singapore in 1936, the siblings went with him; Gordon lived in the city for two years.

Gordon had only an elementary school education, graduating from a Dutch-language school for indigenous students (id) in Palembang in 1940. His father was working for an oil company there. After graduating, Gordon Tobing went to Tarutung to live with his mother and siblings. In 1942, following the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, his father came for him and brought Gordon to Plaju, Palembang, to work at the oil company. During this period he also became a member of the Orkes Bunga Rampai musical group, under Iskandar.

Gordon Tobing remained with the oil company until the end of the occupation in 1945. During the ensuing Indonesian National Revolution, he returned to Tarutung and worked at a shop. With his uncle, Remus, and brother Douglas, Gordon established the band Rimba Boys, which played Hawaiian-style music. Gordon played the bass and ukulele, while Douglas performed the vocals.

Later career and death

The couple lived in Medan for several years, and Tobing was involved in the Chinese-led group Sio Ie She. He also established his own band, Suara Harapan, which played on the Medan branch of RRI. However, Tobing grew disappointed with the city, and in 1959 he and Theresia left Medan to return to Jakarta, where they joined a group of non-government Indonesian artists and performers on a tour of Eastern Europe. Over subsequent years he took part in several further cultural envoy programs, including one to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. In recognition of his musical abilities, Tobing received a guitar from President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and another guitar from Fidel Castro. He was also given a medal by Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia.

In 1960, Tobing and his wife established the Impola vocal group; they worked with Koes Hendratmo (id) for a while, and often performed for state guests. These included Crown Prince Akihito of Japan, for whom Tobing performed a Japanese folk song. Tobing and Hutabarat continued to represent Indonesia as cultural envoys, ultimately travelling to five continents. Tobing also performed for a number of government agencies, including the Indonesian National Police, Bank of Indonesia, and the Bank Dagang Nasional Indonesia (id) (National Trade Bank of Indonesia). He was also called to the Merdeka Palace to perform for President Suharto.

Tobing died in Jakarta at 1:30 a.m. (UTC+7) on 13 January 1993. A memorial gathering was held at the Sahid Hotel in Jakarta the following month

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