A Black teenager from Oakland, California, has an unusual talent: the ability to sing perfect Mandarin Chinese Opera.
In a city that ranks as the number five most dangerous location in the United States, one teenager’s hobby stands out.
Fifteen-year-old Tyler Thompson hasn’t captivated audiences with a criminal record, but with his ability to sing pitch-perfect Mandarin Opera.
As a Black student in the Oakland-based Purple Silk Music Education program, Thompson teaches low income immigrant children and youth how to sing and play traditional Chinese music.
"The music is very beautiful, and it's very passionate. You can hear it when it's being played," said Thompson, who received a standing ovation after performing a centuries-old form of musical theater at the World Children’s Festival in Washington in June. "It's made me want to know more about the world outside of America or California or Oakland," Thompson told the Associated Press.
The Oakland native learned how to sing in Chinese as a kindergartner in a music class at Lincoln Elementary school in Oakland, California, where 90 percent of students are Asian. He was then recruited by his teacher to join her Purple Silk Music Program where students learn to sing Chinese songs and play traditional instruments.
His first solo was at the age of six where he sang at Davies Symphony Hall. He then landed appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America and in front of the U.S. State Department singing for Condoleezza Rice and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi.
Tyler’s mother says that her son’s education and participation at a predominately Asian elementary school has made him “more open minded.”
Though from time to time he says students joked What’s a Black kid from Oakland doing singing Chinese?, he says that he plans to continue signing the traditional art form that has already opened a world of opportunities to him.
Tyler exemplifies that we all can go outside of our comfort zone to learn of other cultures and in doing so we can make opportunities for ourselves, simply by expanding our horizons.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Noah Berger)