Orchard Road ‘busking uncle’ Oh Ow Kee dies at 80: His beads were ‘everything to him’

Even if you didn’t recognise his face when walking down Orchard Road, you might at least be familiar with the sound of his giant bead chains as he swung them around his body. 

Oh Ow Kee, affectionately known as the Orchard Road ‘busking uncle’ or ‘beads uncle’, died on Sunday (Jun 5) at the age of 80. 

Oh’s family members described him as “passionate” about his chains of wooden beads, reported TODAY. His daughter Jean Oh told the publication: “Two weeks before his death, he still made his way to Orchard Road to busk… the beads were his life.” 

She added: “During family birthdays and celebrations, and even on his own birthday, he doesn’t smile much. But when he’s swinging his beads, he has the brightest smile on his face… it was everything to him.” 

Oh, who was a karung guni man before becoming a busker in 2006, picked up swinging beads with his wife Hew Lin Yin 23 years ago as a form of exercise.

Whenever he performed along Orchard Road, Oh would bring seven bead chains along with him, just so passers-by could try their hand at something he grew to be passionate about. 

He also passed his passion on to his children and grandchildren, teaching them how to swing the chains.

In a video from TODAY, his grandson Oh Wei Heng, 17, performed with a chain during Oh’s funeral wake, to cheers and applause from other mourners present. 

Last year, a rumour circulated on TikTok that Oh had died, which prompted Buskers’ Association Singapore’s founder and co-chairman Jonathan Goh to issue clarifications that he was still alive, but unable to busk due to the safe management measures at the time.

Goh, who shared Oh’s obituary on Facebook on Jun 7, wrote that Oh was “one of the most hardworking uncles and always having fun just spinning his bead around his body in the street”. 

“I will miss his smile and wave every time I pass by him to head to Wisma Atria to busk.”

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