We didn't sit around the dining table talking about Madam Walker, but the silverware that we used every day had her monogram on it and our china for special occasions had been Madam Walker's china... and the baby grand piano on which I learned to read music had been in A'Lelia Walker's apartment in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance.
One lesson that every nation can learn from China is to focus more on creating village-level enterprises, quality health services and educational facilities.
When material comes to me, I don't care where it's coming from. Japan, Singapore, China, Africa... it could be from everywhere. The material should excite me. It's not important where it's coming from.
In China, I realized that if you visit often enough and learn the language, you will be assimilated, but you'll still be kept at arm's length; you'll always be looked on as a foreigner.
I was born in Evanston, Illinois. I spent my elementary and part of my junior high school years in a D.C. suburb. And then I spent my high school years in Minnesota. And then I spent my college years in Colorado. And then I spent some time living in China. And then I spent three years in Vermont before moving down to Nashville.
Whenever I visited China in the past, the relationships always felt superficial; there was no time where I felt those moments of conflict and delight that make you feel close to another person. But since I started touring there in 2004, I would always collaborate with local musicians, and that opened up a new level of intimacy.
When I first started playing the banjo and miraculously fell into a record deal in Nashville, TN, there was a period when I didn't go to China. It hurt. Like a pain in my gut... that pain you feel when you know it's time to connect with your parents or your God or your child or your past or your future... and you don't do it.
I would still describe China as a vast, invigorating puzzle that will never make sense to my western upbringing.
I had no intention of becoming a performer, and yet under miraculous circumstances I was brought into the music industry fold. If divine powers hadn't intervened, I'd still be living in China working in some area of Sino-American comparative law.
China was the first time I truly felt like an outsider. I fell in love with the process of trying to become intimate with the culture.