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American wows Japan with hip-hop folk music

  • Story Highlights
  • A 26-year-old American is a hit in Japan performing folk songs in hip hop style
  • Jerome White Jr. first heard the music from his Japanese grandmother
  • His grandmother married a U.S. Army and moved to the U.S. after the war
  • His first single shot to No. 4 in Japan in its first week
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TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Jerome White Jr. took the stage wearing an oversized baseball cap, baggy jeans and two gold chains -- an aspiring singer from the United States. The Japanese crowd heard a beat reminiscent of American-style hip hop -- but then White started to sing.


Jerome White Jr. performs with two hip hop dancers at his debut at music store in Tokyo.

White stunned the crowd with a unique hip hop version of enka, melodramatic Japanese folk music that resonates with the elderly but tends not to interest the young.

"Amazing and strange," said Yoshimitsu Otaka, shaking his head as his country's music flowed flawlessly from the lips of a man who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "This is among the best enka I've heard and it's from a foreigner."

Others have taken to White's music, as well -- his first CD single opened at number 4 in Japan in its first week. Suddenly a 26-year-old American is making a name for himself by performing traditional songs he first heard as a boy.

White first heard the music from his Japanese grandmother, who moved to the United States with her Army husband after World War II.

"Every time I'd go to her house, she'd be playing enka music in the background," he said. "Whenever I'd sing it for her, she'd be really, really excited and happy."


After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, White moved to Tokyo to learn more about his heritage and teach English. On a whim, he entered a karaoke contest. He didn't win, but it led to a record deal with Victor Entertainment.

"My music is still true enka, just with a little more soul and rhythm," he said. "And if it helps younger Japanese learn about this music, then that makes me happy." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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