African American Teacher Finds Internet Fame Singing Chinese Songs

Lucia Bradford (Photo via World Journal)

She doesn’t speak Chinese, but she sings in it. Lucia Bradford, a New York public school teacher who sings in fluent Cantonese and Mandarin, became an instant internet celebrity recently by singing a classical Cantonese pop song at a Chinese community event in Brooklyn. Her performance was videotaped and posted online by an audience member, and the clip attracted more than two million views on Weibo, a social media platform popular among Chinese.

Bradford told the World Journal that she was pleasantly surprised by her newly gained stardom on the internet among Chinese. She said the love of music triggered her interest in Chinese language and culture. She has decided to learn Chinese and also plans to visit China.

On May 21, Bradford, a music teacher at P.S. 130 in Chinatown, was invited to perform at an event hosted by a community organization called “Brooklyn Chinese Community Coalition.” She sang in close to perfect Cantonese the classic “The Bund,” the theme song of a 1980s Hong Kong TV series with the same name starring Chou Yun-Fat. She won a thunderous ovation from the audience. Someone videotaped her performance and posted it online, and the clip went viral on Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo. On Weibo alone, it was viewed more than 2 million times.

Many Chinese netizens gave her “likes” and compliments. “My god, it is not hard to sing the song, but she has not a bit of an accent.” “Her Cantonese is closer to perfect than mine own.” “Is this a voiceover? Her Cantonese is perfect.” These are among the comments Chinese netizens left online about Bradford’s performance. [View the video here.]

Bradford was born in Brooklyn. After she got her degrees in music education and choral performance education from Westminster Choir College, she became a professional singer. She joined P.S. 130 to become a music teacher 13 years ago. Although most of her students are Chinese, Bradford herself doesn’t speak the language. She cannot even tell Mandarin from Cantonese.

Bradford said her love for Chinese songs budded nine years ago when a Chinese colleague taught her to sing a Chinese pop song called “The Moon Represents My Heart” just for fun. Five years ago, she learned her second Chinese song from a colleague in order to perform at a fundraising event for an art project. That was “The Bund.” After that, she learned more and more Chinese songs, from “Jasmine Flower” to “In the Rain.”

Bradford said when she learned “The Bund,” she spent three weeks memorizing the lyrics phonetically before she was able to sing the song without much accent. She said “The Bund” is her favorite song. At the event in Brooklyn, when she went on the stage, nobody paid attention at first. But when she began to sing, almost all guests stopped eating and chatting and listened to her with full attention. In the end, they gave her enthusiastic applause. “Nobody expected a Black girl to be able to sing a Chinese song,” she said.

Bradford said she was surprised that her performance became an internet sensation in the Chinese world. “One day a friend told me that someone posted my performance online. I don’t read Chinese, so I didn’t know millions Chinese had viewed the video,” she said.

Bradford said music has pulled her closer to China without the help of the language. She is going to learn more Chinese songs. She also hopes to get a Chinese name and to visit the country that is both familiar and strange to her by now as soon as possible.

Lisa Wong, an events coordinator at P.S. 130 and Bradford’s agent, said she began to work with her five years ago. A colleague became Bradford’s first teacher in Chinese songs, and then many parents of the school helped to teach her the songs. Wong said Bradford has performed many times in the Chinese community, and every time the audience was enchanted by her.

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