In 1980, Mei Mei was only 5. One day, her father brought home a cassette player and several cassettes. One of the songs captivated young Mei Mei. It was Teresa Teng’s “Qian Yan Wan Yu” (Thousands and Thousands of Words). She learned it after singing along just a few times. After that she became a fan of Teresa Teng. Every day she mimicked Teresa’s voice and sang her songs. Soon she was able to sing quite a few.
When she started elementary school, her singing talent was immediately noticed by her teacher. She began to receive formal training, and at the age of 9, she performed on stage for the first time. When she turned 12, she was recruited into the Lanzhou City Teen’s Choir-a professional singing group for young singers. Her teacher, Wang Wei Yun, was a renowned educator in the musical field. She began her rigorous training in the full range of singing skills: choruses, small choruses, trios, duets, and solos. It was extremely hard work.
In the year when she turned 16, she decided to take a break from the harsh training. Yet she couldn’t stop singing, so behind her parents’ back, she joined a “caravan performance group” and toured all over Northwestern China for 6 months. They traveled on bumpy country roads during the day and performed at night. At every stop, she had to help out with setting up the stage and erecting the tents. The work was backbreaking but the days were full of joy, as she recalled. When she returned home 6 months later, her mother could hardly recognize her! From a pale, delicate school girl, she transformed into a strong farm girl with sun-beat skins. Overcome with emotions, she cried her heart out in her mother’s arms. She realized how much she had missed home sweet home.
In 1992, 18-year-old Mei Mei began her career as a lounge singer. Her sweet and innocent appearance won her quick popularity. Bookings flew in from restaurants, bars, lounges, and clubs all over Lanzhou City. The Grand Bang of Yunfeng she worked with was also one of the most popular bands in Lanzhou. Its crew comprised of these notable musicians: Bassist Mao Di, Guitarist Xue Hui, Drummer Chen Gang, First Keyboard Player Su Maidao, and Secondary Keyboard Player Zhou Daping. One of the members Mao Di, whom she called “Big Brother Mao Di” influenced her the most. He was the one who taught her everything about pop music: the theories, the concepts, and how to appreciate it. He also coached her on how to work with the band on stage. Another influential figure was Chen Gang, a very popular male singer in Lanzhou, with whom she performed many duets. They became one of Lanzhou’s most favorite singing groups.
An agent spotted Mei Mei in the following year. She was taken on a tour outside of her province Gansu for the first time. She performed in major cities like Xiangtan, Zhuzhou, and Changsha in Hunan Province. She met many other professional singers and discovered that while she was one of the best in the City of Lanzhou, she still had a lot more to improve. The tour paid well not only in cash but also in advancing her skills.
The fall of 1995 saw her expanding her horizon even more as a professional singer. 21-year-old Mei Mei visited the remotest area in China—the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. There she sang in cities like Ili, Urumqi, and Turpan. She thoroughly enjoyed the purity and simplicity of the local minority cultures.
South (Guangzhou) Drift Period
In the summer of 1995, Mei Mei joined many other restless young Chinese and became a voluntary drifter, leaving their homes and stable jobs in search for their dreams and true destinies. She landed in Guangzhou. It didn’t take long for her to get her first record deal. She signed with the prominent Huacheng Audio and Video Company and published her first single. It was a song called “Wish You Happy and Healthy”—the lyrics was written by herself and the music was composed by Han Chun. The company invited Lao Zai, a famous Chinese musician, to be the arranger. Master Lao Zai actually came to the studio himself and made her recording for her. After that, Master Chen Luo did the mixing. The song was played on many radio stations in Guangzhou. She was interviewed by the local television networks. In 1998, she sang this song again in the benefit performance to raise relief funds for the Nanhai Earthquake.
Her career took off. Between 1997 and 2001, she performed in many big shows on Guangdong provincial television networks and her songs continued to get played on radio. She joined many tours, going south to Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou, and north to Shenyang and Yinchuan. Then she began to cast in musicals. It was a completely different type of hard work. She had to learn new scripts nearly every other day, besides performing during most evenings. The experience also helped raising her artistic attainments. She was contracted by many record companies such as “You Sing”, Polygram, and Fitto, to record the accompanying vocals for Karaoke discs. She also sang for many TV commercials for several Hong Kong television channels. During this period of time, she made acquaintance with a music student at Xinhai Music Institute who was in her junior year. Her name was Chen Bo. Mei Mei performed “Bookmarks”–a song she composed for a music contest—and won her the Second Place.
One night in 1998, she was performing in a lounge in Guangzhou, when something terrible happened unexpectedly. At the time, she was performing Xu Mei Jing’s “Moonlight in the City” and was pacing on the raised platform on stage. Suddenly she fell through the seam between the platform and the mixer. The platform was four meters high. She could hear a loud cracking sound and felt her hand holding the microphone getting hit by something. Her body almost lost feelings at the impact. But she could still hear the music through her headsets. Strangely she did not panic. “I must finish singing.” That was all she could think of. She stood up and wobbled back up the platform, singing in a mechanical daze. When she finished, the audience burst into thundering applause. Only then did she realize that her high heels were off, and her right hand was covered with blood. She finally felt pain. She was rushed to the hospital. Luckily she had suffered only flesh injury. She thanks the deities for protecting her!
In 2002, Mei Mei joined Sing Music, a Hong Kong TV commercial production company. She worked in the Guangzhou branch as the music producer. She worked on several well-known commercials including “Tingmei Lingerie” which was casted by Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi, “Wahaha Milk”, “Country Garden Real Estate”, and “Midea Air Conditioner”.
In 2003, Mei Mei was 28 years old. In April that year, she was invited to be the resident singer for Singapore’s Topps Lounge and 181 Lounge. The patrons in South Asia in general prefer old Shanghai music in the 30’s and the 40’s. Mei Mei learned to sing a lot of songs by the famous artists of that era, such as Zhou Xuan, Shirley Yamaguchi, Wu Yingyin, Bai Guang, and Nancy Yao Lee. She gained a lot of knowledge about Chinese pop music in the process. Whenever she performed these songs, she felt as if she had been sent back in time to the Old Shanghai Era and was surrounded by grandeur and elegance of that time.
In the winter of 2004, Mei Mei continued her life as a “drifter” like many other young Chinese musicians. Some drifted north to Beijing and others drifted south to Guangzhou. To realize their dreams, they did all kinds of odd jobs to survive. Mei Mei was one among those who drifted south to Guangzhou. In order to support herself and to fund her musical career, she ran between shows in different clubs and lounges. Often times she would be a resident singer at some club or lounge for 3 to 6 months saving up money, and then return to Guangzhou to make her original music. When she ran out of money, she went on the road again. She lived this life for 8 years.
One time she wanted to collaborate with a young musician by the name of Han Chun, who wrote a song called “The Night When I Miss You”. But she didn’t have enough funds to join. She went to a nearby city Shantou and worked there for 3 months to save money. When she finally had enough, someone else already won the bid. This type of situation happened to every young musician trying to make it as most of them were broke. The Chinese music market was at a low during those years. Most record companies would rather invest in well-known artists. Newcomers had to fund their own record deals, which made it exceptionally hard for young musicians to succeed. Many gave up after years of failed efforts and frustrations. Some went back to their hometown and others switched careers.
Mei Mei held on to her dream. She was inspired by a song by a Taiwan singer Julie Su—“Heart of Steel”. The lyrics goes: “Life may end but hope never dies; Let my warm blood raise me again; I may not be known but still I stand tall.” Julie Su did not become famous until she was 31. Every time Mei Mei thought of her, she gained new energy to continue chasing after her dream.
Finally in August 2005 when Mei Mei just turned 30, she was rewarded for her persistence. A renowned music producer in Guangzhou—Mr. Kojima Honghai—signed her with the Renaissance Record Company. He designed a Hi-Fi album for her entitled “Green Mango”. Another producer, Mr. Gao Yisong, strongly suggested she step out of her imitation stage and develop her unique styles. In the recording studio Mr. Gao was very strict. He required her to treat every line of lyrics, every word, and every breath with precision. The title song “Green Mango” took 4 hours to complete. In making this album, Mei Mei finally established her unique singing style.
Mei Mei is grateful to the following people who helped make “Green Mango”:
- Publisher: Zheng Yanqin
- Publishing Director: Luo Tianping
- Music Director: Kojima Honghai
- Production: OTing
- Studio Manager: Wang Wang
- Synthesizer: Gao Yisong
- Processing: Chen Luo
- Arranger: Gao Yisong, Fengzi, Xiao Min, Qin Yuefeng, Chen Hua
- Harmony: OTing, Tang Jinfeng
- Harmonists: Xiao Jia, Li Man, Tiger Choir
- Instrumentalists: Guitarists Qi Feng and Chen Hua; Strings by Guangdong Provincial Orchestra; folk instruments by Guangzhou National Orchestra; other instrumentalists including Wu Guozhing, Huang Jiangqin, Gao Zhijian, Zhang Yi, Fu Na, and Li Juan
- Photographers: Zhang Tong and Bao Yi
“Green Mango” was released on January 25th. 2006 as a Hi-Fi album by China Record Company Guangzhou Branch. It was distributed by Guangdong Yiren Audio-visual Culture Communication Co., Ltd. The album sold very well in all Chinese cities including Hong Kong and Macau. As Mei Mei gained name recognition, her show’s price tag increased dramatically. She finally became an established singer in Guangzhou.
Oversea Drift Period
In July 2006, Mei Mei came to Bandar Klang, Malaysia, where she started a singing institute. She involved herself into all kinds of community charities and judged many singing competitions.
In February 2007, Mei Mei produced her own albums. One was an original song entitled “Feeling of Happiness”, Lyrics by Ah Gu, composition by Apache, and arrangement by Jon Chen, Xiao Ming, Apache, and Lin Zhenwei. The second album was entitled “Forever Teresa Teng”. Both albums were produced through The Channel Eleven Studio in Malaysia. It was directed by Mr. Zheng Jiangzhong, recorded by Thomas Ham, and processed by Thanasekar.
In August 2007, Mei Mei received an Award of Accomplishments in the China Century Classics and Guangdong Pop Music Thirtieth Anniversary Ceremony.
In the spring of 2008, Mei Mei held her first solo concert entitled “Remembering Teresa Teng” in Malaysia’s Genting Casino in celebration of the World-wide Reunion of the HanChiang Alumni. When her performance hit the local newspapers, people nicknamed her “Little Teresa Teng”.
Development in U. S. A.
In 2011, Mei Mei emigrated to the United States. She started to research the Shanghai music of the 30’s and the 40’s. She met Mr. Edwin Loui, who is the host of the talk show “Those Old Songs” and also a collector of vinyl records. Mr. Loui provided her with a huge amount of information about “Old Shanghai Songs”. She also apprenticed with an old-time famous Shanghai singer Liang Ping to learn to sing those songs. Mei Mei’s style of sing entered a new stage. In addition to singing, she hosted a program called “Good Songs bring Good Moods” on the Chinese radio station FM92.3. She also became involved in local charitable activities and acted as a judge on various singing contests.
In 2012, Mei Mei collaborated with young musician Love Tko in producing her fourth album—a Hip Hop style album targeting young people. She joined Joy Luck Music Club to create Old Shanghai Pop music and founded Mei Mei Singinig Institute.
On Mother’s Day in 2013, Mei Mei held her first U.S. solo concert in San Francisco’s Albert & Janet Schultz Cultural Arts Hall. The concert was entitled “The Night We Met Again”.
In September 2013, Mei Mei formed her own band “Joy Luck Music Band” with some of the outstanding musicians in the Bay Area, including Keyboard Player Brandon Mei, Drummer Albert Yan, Pianist Ren Guang, Lute Player Gigi Zhang, and Flutist Michael Zhang. On the Mid-Autumn Festival that year, she held a Shanghai Old Song Concert called “Endless Love”.
On April 27th, 2014, Mei Mei held another Shanghai Old Song Solo Concert at Albert & Janet Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, entitled “Wang Zhaojun”. She performed some of her original songs at this concert.
On February 7th. 2015, Mei Mei held a Classical Shanghai Old Song Solo Concert at San Francisco Scottish Rite Masonic Auditorium, entitled “A Fair Girl”. One of the songs she performed was an original song called “Dialogue with the Moon over Wine”.
Mei Mei turned 41 in 2016. She regrouped her Joy Luck Music Band with new talents. They included Guitarist and Director Chen Jiansheng, Drummer Chen Yixin, Keyboard: Albert Yan, Bass Yuan Yuyong, Lute Li Haoqin and Cao Yanling, Erhu Xu Kaiqing, Guzheng Artist Xu Le, French Horn Tang Xiaowei, Trumpet Ren Guang, Violinists Chen Xiaoli and Huang Zisu. She held a Classical Solo Concert entitled “A Love Affair” in San Francisco Scottish Rite Masonic Auditorium. She performed three of her own original works: “Resentment in the Han Palace”, “Ode to the Beautiful Lotus”, and “Cold Smoke Over Fall Waters”.
On September 3rd, 2016, Asian Artists Association held the world beauty pageant “Miss World Fashion Final” in San Francisco. Mei Mei was invited to be a judge and the award presenter for the Miss Talent Award. She also designed and directed the performances of the show.