*(Via LA Times) – Looking back, says the pop singer called Jero, the songs were a soundtrack to his childhood, the strange and sorrowful melodies enjoyed by his Japanese-born grandmother – traditional folk ballads he came to know as enka music.

In the early 1990s, Jerome White Jr. (pictured) was a skinny mixed-race kid – three-quarters African American, one-quarter Japanese – who found respite from the tough streets of Pittsburgh’s North Side in the mysterious music that emanated from his grandmother’s living room. “It was in the background ever since I can remember,” he says.

As rap music blared from car radios outside, White reveled in nostalgic foreign-language songs from post-World War II Japan, painful tales of lost love and quaint, longed-for hometowns. Together, White and his grandmother Takiko watched videotapes of a Japanese variety show that featured the popular musical acts of the day, including enka performers.

That’s when the young boy made his grandmother a promise: One day, he was going to go to Japan and become a cross-cultural sensation, singing enka songs to wildly appreciative audiences.

Read the rest of this story by John M. Glionna at the LA Times.

Watch as Jerome “Jero” White Jr. blows their minds over in Japan: