by Xinhua writer Zhang Yisheng, Tamara Treichel
BEIJING, March 25 (Xinhua) -- When U.S. singer-songwriter Slater Rhea wrote and released his recent songs "Chinese Girl" and "China, My Home" back in the early fall of 2019, he couldn't have foreseen that one day soon a severe virus outbreak would develop and he would get the chance to donate all proceeds from his new CD to virus relief efforts in the country he calls his "second home."
That is exactly what he decided to do after hearing that the novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, had hit the central Chinese city of Wuhan and claimed thousands of lives in China.
"China is my home, my life and livelihood," the charismatic young American with silver hair and hazel eyes told Xinhua in a recent email interview. "So it only made sense to do everything I could to contribute to the quick containment and management of the COVID-19 outbreak."
Rhea is no stranger to Chinese audiences, as he performs regularly on Chinese TV and has become a musical phenomenon in the country with his command of Chinese folk and pop songs and fluent Mandarin.
Born in the southern U.S. state of Louisiana, Rhea, whose Chinese name is "Shuai De," obtained his master's degree from Johns Hopkins University's China campus in Nanjing in eastern China. Today he doubles as an assistant professor of International Studies and English at China's top foreign languages university, Beijing Foreign Studies University.
Rather creatively, he used music as a method to learn the Chinese language, and has found a niche for himself in the entertainment industry in China after graduating. It was also for this reason that he wrote and released his first full studio album in 2019, entitled "Sing Chinese with Slater," filled with educational songs to help international youngsters learn Chinese the way he did.
"I like to call China my second home because of the warmth and acceptance I've always felt there," Rhea said, adding that his Chinese friends are "extremely kind and generous" to him and make him "feel very at home in China."
Rhea is now recording a full album of pop songs of his own composition. The first single from that album, entitled "Chinese Girl," conveys his love for China and the Chinese people.
Rhea was promoting his new CD single "Chinese Girl" and "China, My Home" in the United States and Canada, when he learned of the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, a major transport and industrial hub of 11 million people in the Chinese province of Hubei. The outbreak has forced him to redraw his plans of continuing with his musical tour in the United States, which had so far taken him to Seattle, Denver, Oklahoma and New Orleans in the states, as well as Vancouver in Canada, and indefinitely delayed his return to China.
The virus-hit city of Wuhan was then locked down on Jan. 23, one day before this year's Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, during which Chinese people like to engage in family reunions.
Rhea has many friends from Wuhan, including a very close former professor.
"My thoughts have been with her and her family there in Wuhan throughout the crisis," he said, adding "this virus is very personal for all people who love and live in China."
With fresh confirmed cases of COVID-19 popping up, Rhea said he "acted quickly to announce that all proceeds from my CD would be donated to COVID-19 relief in China and I refocused my tour events on educating young people about the situation and also encouraging everyone I saw to contribute to the relief efforts."
As rumors and misinformation about the pandemic are still rampant, a big part of Rhea's efforts involved talking to young people about the realities, Rhea said.
He said people need to "understand the realities and not the paranoia."
Like many others, the outbreak of the virus demanded some creative solutions on Rhea's part. "Some events could only be done online or remotely due to fears about the virus, which is very understandable, but this presented an extra challenge, since I like to talk to my audiences and fans face to face and interact with them, but this has also led me to be more creative and given me a new way to explore online formats and media," Rhea said.
As the virus has been spreading in the United States, Rhea has put his public appearances on hold, spending time writing his new music and developing other entertainment and educational projects while holed up in his Louisiana home.
To Rhea, no moment has been more "wonderful and touching" than local audiences chanting words of encouragement for Wuhan and waving posters and fliers of support at his events.
American audiences have "poured out their support and encouragement for the Chinese people," said Rhea.
The most rewarding part of his efforts has been the sweet response from local children, who expressed encouragement and support for the people in China, he added.
"It has also been very rewarding to share my love for China and my Chinese-language pop songs with American audiences and to really be a bridge between our two countries' peoples at this critical time," he said.
It is for these and other efforts that the mayor of Rhea's hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana has recognized him with a proclamation calling him a U.S.-China Cultural Ambassador. At his recent events at the University of Oklahoma, the OU Confucius Institute recognized Rhea with a similar title.
Rhea is no stranger to philanthropy. "I grew up believing that volunteering and using my talents for others' benefit is important and fulfilling, and it's one of my favorite things to do," the singer said.
In China, he has been volunteering to teach underprivileged children in the countryside English and even wrote a song especially for them. He has also been visiting nursing homes to entertain the elderly both in China and in the United States.
"I have been so fortunate that I feel I ought to give back whenever I can to those who are less fortunate than I am," Rhea said.
"The Chinese people's response to the crisis has been inspiring to me, because I've never seen so many people act with one purpose to achieve a goal before," the singer said.
"Of course there are the heroic doctors and health care professionals who have endangered their own lives to treat the sick, but also just the whole country of 1.4 billion people working together, diligently and valiantly carrying out all of the quarantine efforts," he said. In fact, Rhea was so impressed by the efforts of China's health professionals, that he is currently working on a song about them.
"It has been a hard, hard fight, but the virus seems to be on the ropes in China, and it's thanks to all of the people in China working in concert to make it happen. It's an inspiring thing and it's an example the rest of the world needs badly to follow."
Rhea said he believed that China and the world will win the battle against the pandemic and that the future will be brighter than ever.
"I can't wait for the day soon that I will be able to return home to Beijing and resume my life there," he said.