Born Yáo Xiùyún (姚秀雲) and rasied in Shanghai, Yao began performing on the radio in 1935 at the age of 13. When she was 14, she recorded her first single with Yan Hua (嚴華) called "Xin xiao fang niu" (新小放牛). She was signed to Pathé Records.
She married Huang Baoluo (黃保羅) in 1947 and ceased performing on stage to devote time to her family. Following the Communist seizure of power in China in 1949, popular music was considered ideologically suspect and Yao fled to Hong Kong in 1950 to continue her singing career there. In addition to releasing hit records, beginning in 1955 with the film 桃花江 (Peach Blossom River), she often acted as a playback singer for movie superstars. Many of the featured songs would also become popular. She stopped singing in 1967 upon the death of her brother but took an executive position with EMI Music Hong Kong in 1969. In 1970, she returned to performing and travelled to Taiwan to perform there for the first time and sought unsuccessfully to sign Teresa Teng to EMI for the Hong Kong market. She retired officially in 1975 but remained supportive of singers such as Wakin Chau.
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