You talk about a heck of a life–singer Baiyu is a beautiful, first-generation Chinese immigrant who is the child of two musicians and fell in love with and started singing R&B at the height of the New Jack Swing movement. She graduated from Princeton University, worked as a model and was a host on the MTVU program “The Freshmen,” singing and dancing all the while.
Her life, her experiences and her spirit are inspiring and uplifting as she truly reminds us that the American Dream is still out there waiting to be captured by those who seek it. Gaining recognition from her duet with Ryan Leslie on “When We Dance,” the singer has released an EP of her own, B Side, showcasing her vocal talents. When we caught up with Baiyu she was at no loss for engaging conversation, sharing stories about discovering R&B, living with subway musicians in New York City during a sociology study and how her upbringing was both traditional and free-spirited.
Soul Train: First of all, can you tell me about your name? What does it mean?
Baiyu: So my name, Baiyu, is actually my birth name and it’s actually from a poem. It means white feather. It’s essentially about this general that checks into an inn late at night and it’s after a war or some sort of large affair that just happened. He hears rustling outside of this inn and he thinks he may have seen a tiger or large animal of some sort. So he pulls out his bow and arrow and the arrow happens to have a white feather at the tail end of it. He shoots at this moving object that he thinks is potentially harmful in the middle of the night. He wakes up in the morning and realizes that the arrow had penetrated through stone and really all that he saw was the rustling of the wind. It just is this idea of resilience and beauty at the same time and being able to sort of penetrate stone and do the impossible. It’s a really neat name that my parents gave me that’s kind of a testament to everything I’ve experienced so far.
Soul Train: Would you consider your family to be a traditional Chinese family?
Baiyu: I think that my family dynamic is really really interesting. They are very traditional in the sense that they are first generation immigrants like myself, we have a lot of traditional values. I still speak Chinese at home actually and even when we watch the news at night, its Chinese programming. But in the same sense my parents are both musicians and you know musicians tend to be a little more free spirited. And even though you know we very much value education and hard work, in a sense they can also value my pursuit of music. I think that’s really helped me get out there with their support.
Soul Train: Also, so you have mentioned some of the experiences you’ve had growing up and how your name kind of fit your upbringing and your experiences, do you want to give some insight on that?
Baiyu: Well I grew up partly in China–I was born in China, and as I mentioned both of my parents are musicians and they actually met in college because of this love of music. Growing up it’s always been that sort of a bond. My mom would always be singing while she’s cooking, my dad plays the flute and the saxophone and as a child it’s always been very much of a musical experience for me and with that I sort of started developing a musical sensibility of my own. I would dance at my kindergarten and I would put on these performances for my friends. And as an adult, I feel like its really funny now that “Glee” is on-air, because I feel that not only am I a “Gleek” because I’m a fan of the show, but when I came to the states I realized from elementary on up even into college there were these wonderful choirs. So I would always join whatever class there was, show choir, I was alto section leader, and just on top of that I like to sing on my own. I would practice everyday listening to records and singing and creating new songs and I even made a band or a girl group with a couple of my high school buddies and everything just stemmed from there, you know its baby steps. You learn to sing, you perform for others, you learn to write, and then finally you get on to the bigger stage and you realize that maybe something’s there, maybe like this passion can develop into a career and you know it’s the baby steps that have propelled me to where I am today.
Soul Train: Your first musical influences were Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston but, what was it about the R&B genre that drew you in?
Baiyu: Actually believe it or not, its sort of like love at first sight but its love at first listen. In China I listened to a lot of pop music and even some traditional opera-type music but I never really clicked with it. When I came into the states, one of my first friends that I ever met, who I just met with today and had dinner with which is great, she introduced me to American music. At the time it was in the 90s and she happened to be big on R&B and for me, what drew me in is that these artists had so much soul. Its really interesting listening to them because you can really hear the emotion. Its not just about the precision of the sound and the melody which is a lot of times what Chinese pop music is about, its also about that soul and that emphasis and that emotion that goes into the music. I feel like for me, not only is it entertaining and wonderful to listen to that and connect to the artist in that way, for me as a performer it is very much a vehicle for me to express through my fans certain emotions and experiences that I’ve had.
Soul Train: So what did you study at Princeton?
Baiyu: So I actually studied sociology, and funny enough because my parents are so traditional they were like what are you doing? You’re studying sociology what are you going to do when you grow up? But I’m a people person, I love learning about people, I love speaking to people, I love writing about experiences and for me sociology was a wonderful major. And then also realizing that our first lady Michelle Obama is an alumna, I think that really helped sell it to my parents educationally. But it was quite an interesting experience for me and I just felt like I learned a lot about different societies and viewpoints and even for my senior year I ended up doing a thesis project about New York City subway musicians. So I essentially spent the last year of my college career studying these wonderfully passionate musicians who are out pounding the pavement in NYC and really using their passion for the art as a way to earn a living in such harsh conditions.
Soul Train: Wow that’s really interesting.
Baiyu: Yeah it was really interesting, and kind of dangerous. I ended up in so many random places. Even as a passenger you’re down there like wow it smells like urine and its cold, why would you wanna sit on the floor and play? But these people really just like it, they don’t wanna do anything other than just play music and it was interesting just to sit with them. And sometimes people gave me looks like you’re dressed nice and clean, and you’re sitting next to this guy that’s playing a ukulele and he’s got like a stuffed animal and he looks like a homeless man. You know I actually lived with one of them over the summer and I went to so many random places with these folks. It’s actually really empowering in a sense because it reminds you why people do music in the first place.
Soul Train: Tell me about the EP you’re working on.
Baiyu: I actually just released an EP. It’s independently released through a major distribution label and its entitled B Side. There’s two meanings to that, so one of it is B Side, Baiyu’s side, my side of the story. But also as a child of 90s music in a sense, I felt like whenever I got a cassette tape, you could always listen to the A side and then there’s a B side to it. A lot of times the singles and the radio ready hits are on the A side where as on the B side it’s the songs that the artist still really felt personally attached to, it’s a little more introspective and it’s the songs that they wanted to put on the album. So for me it’s a really introspective album about all my personal experiences. Outside of that actually I’ve released a free single for folks to download called “Take a Number” and I’m working on a new EP that I’m releasing in March of April of 2011. So I’m just constantly making music and trying to put some really great songs out there.
Buy Baiyu music on iTunes
Soul Train: Who are some artists that you would like to work with?
Baiyu: Oh my gosh, just because, you know, I’m still a little bit stuck on that 90s, I would love to work with both Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot. Just because I feel like not only are they great artists, their overall artists, you know, not only are they great MCs but they have this persona and their always daredevils and their music videos have always brought something new to the market. And I feel like Busta and Missy are sort of open to the Asian culture as well so I think they can do something interesting musically with some of my future songs or future projects or even existing songs. But there’s a ton of great artists and writers out there, I would love to work with an Usher or Alicia Keys, there’s just some really great artists out there, Beyonce, Lady Gaga. I love experimenting with music so I think that whenever you collaborate with someone it brings something new and that’s what I love about it.
Soul Train: Soul Train was still on the air in the 90s, do you have any favorite Soul Train memories or any exposure with Soul Train?
Baiyu: I actually do. I used to watch it on TV and I used to watch the way everyone dances and actually from as far back as I can remember, from elementary school to high school to college, there’s always been a Soul Train line and I’ve always been deathly afraid of it. Just because like I love the music, I love watching people move but even, I do dance but just the idea of free styling in front of other people has always just scared the pants off of me. So I love watching Soul Train if anything just to watch people free style and dance and do some crazy stuff and let go in front of so many millions of people, that’s part of the reason why I love the show, and the live performances of course.
Soul Train: Is there anything you would like to share as far as what you want the fans to know, what they should look out for, how they can reach you in social media, things like that?
Baiyu: I really just want to connect with my fans, I love feedback so I love it when folks write me, comment. I’m basically everywhere, if you go to my website, www.baiyuonline.com you can find links to my twitter which is Twitter.com/baiyumusic . I’m also on youtube, I have a couple videos on there, Youtube.com/baiyuonline. I’m also on Facebook just look me up, I’m on myspace, wherever you want to find me I’m probably there, and I even blog too so just check me out online, Google me and you’ll be able to find something.
Check out the sexy video for Baiyu’s single “Sweet Misery.”
— Quia Querisma
* * * *
Quia Querisma is a freelance writer, Dallas Glambassador, and enthusiast of dresses, shoes, premium denim and socializing of all varieties. She is many things to many people at QuiaQuerisma.com