Jero:A Pitt Alum Rocks Japan

I don’t know how many of you saw my story about a young University of Pittsburgh graduate who has taken the Japanese music scene by storm. This is Jerome White, Jr., and he was back in town the end of August, to see his family and perform for a sold-out crowd at Pitt’s student union. Word is, people from Japan heard about the performance, and were willing to fly over here for it!  Jerome, who has just turned 27, is known as “Jero” in Japan, and his concert was presented by the Asian Studies Center at Pitt, where I have spent a lot of wonderful hours over the last 27 years here in the ‘Burgh. 

Try googling Jero and you’ll see that they are even writing stories about him in the UK. Jerome sings enka, a genre that became very popular in post-war Japan, and one that  Jerome told me is like the blues. They are usually songs of lost love, and often have melancholy lyrics. The older Japanese women sitting behind me at the concert were all singing along with Jero. I loved it.

This type of music has waned in popularity in recent years, but this unlikely performer is bringing it back in a big way. Not only is he the first African-American enka singer there, but he does it in hip-hop style. He said on stage that he thought dressing in a kimono would be almost offensive, and a parody, and he dresses hip-hop anyway, so he talked the record producers into it. Good thing. His first record zoomed to number 4 on the Japanese charts, and the producers told Jerome that that just doesn’t happen. 

Jerome’s mother, Harumi Morrow, was there, and his brother, and other family members. One of his brothers now lives in Japan, I think. Jerome’s maternal grandmother was Japanese, and that is where he learned to sing enka, staying over at her house. He really doesn’t seem to want to switch into pop genres, and is committed to enka. Made me want to go back to Japan and see him perform. 

Jerome got his degree in information sciences in 2003, and went right to Japan, where he taught English, then got a job in systems engineering. He also studied Japanese at Pitt, and at his concert, he called the University’s program the best in the country. After entering a lot of karaoke contests, and winning some, he finally caught the attention of a record producer, and the rest is history. This visit, he had a national Japanese documentary crew following him around everywhere. 

And these guys talked about heading over to not only visit, but dance, with Jero. Meet Mike Davis, Kya Comer, and Philip King. They went to Pitt with Jerome, danced in a group with him, and performed at the concert to raves. They would be an enormous hit in Japan, where hip-hop is hugely popular. It was truly an international night.

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