Michael Jackson> James Brown> Marvin Gaye> Elvis> Ray Charles...

There are so many unexpected joys that come from living in a foreign country. One of them happened today when I realized that my Chinese coworkers didn't know any American music before Michael Jackson. Its the first time I have ever mentioned the name Elvis and got a completely blank stare. I couldnt stop laughing. It makes sense when you think about the limited role western culture had in China from 1949 on.

The later part of the night I spent playing the music that influenced the American music generation before it. It started with them playing an American born Chinese singer that was mimicking Michael Jackson's acapella rifts. I explained that he was copying Jackson who got it from James Brown. I tried to explain that Jackson also patterned his dancing style after Brown's ( in honor of the Godfather of Soul I'm posting my favorite youtube video of him dancing.)

From there I played them early Ray Charles. Next came Elvis who covered Charles' " I got a Woman" and rose to fame by copying African American music. Then I had to throw in Marvin Gaye to explain what the Motown sound was. Even with my limited understanding of history I could link back 60 years of American music.

Tomorrow I'm going to introduce them to Johnny Cash by way of the rivalry he had with Elvis. Then I can explain the June Carter Cash and the Carter family, which is a great segue way into the music from my region of the world, bluegrass.


  1. Awesome Ben! What an exciting way to connect with people! If you get a chance, throw in some Otis Redding for me!