May 1st, 2012
02:59 PM ET

The Big Idea: Banjo music connects America and China

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Over in our opinion section, Abigail Washburn writes thoughtfully about the power of music to connect people from different cultures. She has a unique persective from which to make this claim, since she's a banjo-playing bluegrass musician - with curly blonde hair - who sometimes sings in Chinese.

Here's what she has to say about music's cross-cultural powers:

Music is a powerful way to connect cultures. I see it when I'm on a stage at a bluegrass festival in Virginia. When I look out at the sea of people in lawn chairs and bust into a song in Chinese, everybody's eyes pop wide open and they nudge their neighbor: "Is that girl singing in Chinese?" After a show, people would come up to me; everyone seems to have a story about their connection to China. And I see the power of music when I'm on stage in China: I start a Chinese song and the audience roars with delight that the blond, curly-haired girl with the banjo can sing their music.

More importantly, I see how music directly connects people's hearts. Like the time a little Chinese girl came up to me after I performed at a relocation school in Sichuan's earthquake disaster zone and asked: "Big Sister Wang, can I sing you a song that my mom sang before she was swallowed in the earthquake...?" She sat on my lap and I could feel the warmth of her body. She sang me the song, and tears started rolling down her cheeks and tears started rolling down mine. The light shining from her eyes felt like a place I could stay forever.

Check out the full post on CNN Opinion, and watch a video interview above.

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Filed under: Art • Culture • Innovation • Music
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