Few figures in the Cambodian music world are as famed and beloved as singer Ros Serey Sothea, who was one of the biggest rock and roll stars of Cambodia’s golden age of music in the 1960s.

For over a decade, the singer captivated audiences with her tragic love ballads, cheerful rock ‘n’ roll tunes and duets with other famous singers at the time, culminating in a career that crowned her as “The Queen with the Golden Voice.”

But when the communist-led Khmer Rouge regime rose to power in Cambodia in the mid-1970s, she disappeared. The circumstances of her death are unclear, even today, but many believe she was slain in the cultural purges and mass killings of Cambodian people known as the Killing Fields.

Despite her musical fame, very little was recorded about the singer’s history, and details of her life remained scarce for decades.

Now, a new graphic novel, released through Humanoids this week, is offering the most complete picture of Ros Serey Sothea’s story that’s ever been told.

Cambodian singer Ros Serey Sothea. Photo courtesy Humanoids.

“The Golden Voice: The Ballad of Cambodian Rock’s Lost Queen” by author and television producer Gregory Cahill, tells the story of Ros Serey Sothea’s early life as a rice farmer in 1967 and charts her life as a singer until 1977—the year of her mysterious disappearance.

The book, Cahill said, has been a project some 20 years in the making.

It began in the early 2000s when Cahill saw the film “City of Ghosts,” which featured several of Ros Serey Sothea’s songs. In 2006, captivated by her music and tragic story, Cahill went on to direct the short film “The Golden Voice,” a drama based on her life.

It did well in the festival circuit, winning several awards before going on to play internationally for years, Cahill said. With hopes to create a feature-length film next, Cahill spent many years researching and writing a script. It was on a trip to Cambodia that Cahill met Ros Serey Sothea’s sister, Ros Saboeun, whose input was paramount in filling in the gaps in her sister’s story.

A scene of Cambodian singer Ros Serey Sothea singing to a crowd in the new graphic novel “The Golden Voice: The Ballad of Cambodian Rock’s Lost Queen” written by Gregory Cahill with art by Kat Baumann and published through Humanoids. Image courtesy Humanoids.

“There isn’t really much written documentation about Ros Serey Sothea’s life,” Cahill said. “So about 95% of it comes from oral history. So it was really about her sister’s story and other people who knew her personally when she was still alive.”

Cahill’s hopes for creating a feature-length film were never realized.

“Financial people would get cold feet at the last minute,” he said, but in his pursuit to share the singer’s story, Cahill decided to adapt his script into a graphic novel. After enlisting the help of artist Kat Baumann, the pair would spend the two years getting the movie he saw in his mind onto the page.

When it came time to celebrate the completion of his novel, Cahill knew it had to be done in Long Beach, the city that is home to one of the largest Cambodian diasporas in the world.

On Saturday, Oct. 7 dozens of people packed the Xela Institute of Art in the Wrigley neighborhood, to take home the first copies of the new novel.

Author Gregory Cahill signs copies of his new graphic novel “The Golden Voice: The Ballad of Cambodian Rock’s Lost Queen” at the Xela Institute of Art on Saturday, Oct. 7. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

During the event, several people who were instrumental to Cahill’s research were honored, including one of Ros Serey Sothea’s best friends, Seng Botum, who worked as an actress in Cambodia during the 1970s and Sitha Ty, the daughter of another famous 1960s Cambodian singer, Chhun Vanna.

The evening included performances by Chhom Nimol and Zac Holtzman of Dengue Fever, who performed several covers of Ros Serey Sothea’s most memorable songs.

“The Golden Voice: The Ballad of Cambodian Rock’s Lost Queen” is currently on sale for both print and digital copies and features an interactive soundtrack with Ros Serey Sothea’s music. Visit the Humanoids website for more information.

Music in the video was used with permission by Dengue Fever, to learn more about the band and hear their music, click here.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Ros Serey Sothea’s sister, Ros Saboeun.