Jero in Concert
Wednesday, Mar 31, 8:00PMAratani / Jana America Theatre at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, 244 South San Pedro Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012Tickets: $100, $80, $60, $50 www.jaccc.org Box Office (213) 680-3700
Jero aks Jerome Charles White, Jr. makes his long-awaited U.S. concert debut in celebration of the JACCC’s 30th Anniversary. As the first professional African American enka singer in the history of Japanese music, Jero has single-handedly reignited interest in the musical ballads that emerged in Japan’s post-war ear.
Critics have lauded the way this meteoric talent has managed to mold an old musical genre around a modern context in a way that appeals to both old and new generation. Looking like a hip-hop star, with a voice of an angel, he has redefined the Soul of Japan.
Jero began singing enka actively at the age of six and continued to study the Japanese language all throughout high school and university. He also studied Japanese for some time at the Kansai Gaidai University school of foreign languages in Osaka.
Jero majored in information science at the University of Pittsburgh and graduated in 2003, and moved to Japan in the same year. Two months after arriving in Japan, he entered the HNK Nodo Jiman singing competition broadcast on TV.
Jero first began pursuing his dream to become an enka artist because of the influence of his Japanese grandmother Takiko, who had met his grandfather Leonard Tabb, an African-American serviceman, at a dance during World War II.
They married, had a daughter, Harumi – now a department store sales clerk – and eventually moved to his grandfather’s hometown, Pittsburgh. His parents divorced when he was young, and he was reared amid a strong sense of Japanese culture.
His grandmother, originally from Yokohama, first introduced Jero to enka and it was under her guidance that he grew to love the genre as a child. Jero, who majored in information technology at the University of Pittsburgh, did not initially imagine himself in a career as an enka singer.
Rather, after he permanently moved to Japan, his main forms of employment were as an English teacher and as a computer engineer. He only began to actively work towards become an enka singer because he had promised his grandmother that one day he would someday perform at the annual new year’s eve Kohaku Uta Gassen extravaganza vocal music show presented by government owned HNK broadcasting station.
As a result, he actively participated in numerous singing contests while he continued to work as a computer engineer and eventually achieved real success after only two months since he had arrived in Japan.
Sadly, his grandmother never was able to see her grandson achieve enka fame, as she died in 2005, three years before he became famous.
His first single, Umi Yuki (literally, Ocean Snow), was released in Japan on Feb 20, 2008. It entered the Oricon popuar music charts at number 4. Umi Yuki, references the Sea of Japan, but Jero has admitted that the only ocean he has ever really seen was in California.
From May 21, 2008, Jero appeared in a Japanese TV commercial for Kirin “Fire” coffee, the first time he had appeared in a TV commercial. In October 2008, he was interviewed on CNN International’s TalkAsia.
He won Best New Artist Award in 50th Japan Record Awards on December 30, 2008. Jero was selected to appear on the 59th HNK Kohaku Uta Gassen on Dec 31, 2008.
In his participation, he fulfilled a pledge he made to his dying grandmother to appear on the yearly competition. Jero appeared wearing a black and white shirt bearing the image of his grandmother. He also appeared on the following year’s show.
Jero made his first major U.S. appearance on Mar 28, 2009 during the opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. Jero’s first official U.S. appearance was a live concert to over 500 fans at the University of Pittsburgh, his alma mater, on August 27, 2008.
Jero launches his very first U.S. official concert tour on Mar 28, 2010 in San Francisco. A second concert will be held at Aratani Theatre in Los Angeles on Mar 31, 2010.
Afrian-American culture have been popular among a segment of young Japanese since the mid-1990s, so many are hoping that he will be able to spark interest in enka in the younger generation.
He held a concert on Feb 20, 2008 in Shibuya, a popular hangout for young people. Enka, a product of the late 1940’s, is often viewed today by the music industry as commercially obsolete.
Indeed, there is hope for enka yet as Jero’s fan base is not limited to older women who grew up with the genre but also a new and emerging younger fan base who before would never have been thought of as potential fans for the genre.
Jero’s devotion to the memory of his grandmother and his image as a well educated individual has helped him to win over the hearts of older fans, while younger fans are drawn to him and his music because of the way he has revitalized the genre by blending it with a dash of hip hop.
From the start, Jero always wanted to keep his hip hop attire, but his record company was a bit hesitant at first. Most enka singers wear a kimono in their performances, which Jero felt was inappropriate for him. After pleading with his management company, he was allowed to maintain the hip hop image and to great success as it is one of the many factors that contribute to his great popularity.