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WASHINGTON (Kyodo) On the eve of his performance in Washington, popular African-American “enka” singer Jero said Friday he is eager to make the traditional Japanese ballads popular in the United States.

“I sure wish to promote the genre of enka to a lot of people,” he said at a news conference before his performance Saturday at the opening ceremony of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in the U.S. capital.

“I hope the people will feel the charm in enka and its melodies, although there is a difference in language,” the 27-year-old crooner said in fluent Japanese.

Jero was scheduled to sing three songs that have become major hits in Japan, and one was expected to be “Umiyuki” (“Ocean Snow”), a piece that tells the tale of a heartbroken woman and her unrequited love. This year’s festival runs through April 12.

He said he feels really honored to be invited to the festival.

“I have wanted to sing enka before the American people,” he said. “I do have an uneasy feeling, though, because this is my first time to sing enka at an event like this in the United States.”

A type of Japanese folk ballad known for its melodramatic themes, enka is usually performed by aged singers. But the youthful Jero has taken Japan by storm with his renditions of the traditional form.

Responding to a question about the election of President Barack Obama, Jero said: “I am very pleased with that both as an American and as a black man. I have high expectations of him.”

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

He started listening to enka 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. sk

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