Day 70: Building U.S./China relations- by banjo

In 2004, Abigail Washburn was studying Chinese and preparing to study law in Beijing. Her aim was to improve U.S/ China relations through judicial systems reforms.

One evening she found herself at a party listening to Doc Watson playing ‘Little Grove’ on the stereo. After years of obsession with Chinese culture, Washburn was surprised to be so impressed by the beautiful sound of the quintessentially American banjo. She bought a banjo and embarked on a trip through Appalachia, eventually ending up at a Bluegrass convention in Kentucky. There, she met with four girls who asked her to jam with them and as she played the only four songs she could remember, a record executive came up to her and asked if she’d care to make an album in Tennessee.

Eight years on, instead of becoming another lawyer, Washburn has played banjo throughout the world. She sings in both English and Chinese, recognising through each language the power to connect cultures and hearts. Everybody has a story, whether it’s that of an American couple who adopted a Chinese baby or the Chinese girl who lost her mother in an earthquake.

Washburn’s is an extraordinary and moving story. In the words of Victor Hugo, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”


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