WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Popular black American “enka” (ballad) singer Jero will belt out his soulful tunes at the opening ceremony for the National Cherry Blossom Festival on March 28, the Japanese Embassy said.

Jero, 27, is scheduled to sing two ballads that have become major hits in Japan, including “Umiyuki” (“Ocean Snow”), about a heartbroken woman and her unrequited love.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, the honorary chairwoman of the festival, has been invited to the opening ceremony, though her attendance has yet to be confirmed.

This year’s festival runs through April 12. Organizers said that despite the deepening U.S. recession, they expect over 1 million visitors to come this year, which is about the usual draw.

Jero, whose real name is Jerome White Jr., was born in Pittsburgh.

He started listening to the traditional ballads at an early age, influenced by his Japanese grandmother.

He moved to Japan in 2003 after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in information science.

He made his debut in Japan in February last year with “Umiyuki” after winning various singing competitions in Japan.

“Umiyuki” is fourth on the national singles chart compiled by Oricon Co. and is the highest debut for a single released by an enka singer.

Jero performed on the annual music show Kohaku Uta Gassen on New Year’s Eve and won the 50th Japanese Record’s Best New Artist Award for the year.

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