Jero became a household name in Japan ever since his debut in February 2008. Since then, he has been on the road for promotional appearances, TV and radio interviews and other media events. Almost overnight he established himself as a leader in a musical genre which until now has been dominated by only Japanese singers.A huge part of his success came from his being a pioneer of a unique genre, a blend of hip-hop and traditional Japanese enka music. His first single was “Umiyuki”, released on February 20, 2008, to a very receptive crowd.
Like many great success stories, Jero had humble beginnings. He was born in 1981 as Jerome White, a grandson of a US navy officer and a Japanese woman. Growing up as a black Japanese he was exposed to very unique cultures. He was raised in Pittsburgh, but his grandmother never forgot her roots. She always sang enka songs to him when he was young. Before the age of 10, Jero was able to sing a number of songs from great enka artists such as Sayuri Ishikawa and Hibari Misora. Jero grew up loving enka songs as well as the usual Pittsburgh playlist of hip-hop and R&B, but he didn’t think enka songs would be received well by the US audience. Thus, this dream was temporarily shelved.
As Jero finished a degree in information technology in Pittsburgh, he decided to permanently move to Japan. He had two jobs then: a computer engineer and an English teacher. His big break came in the form of an audition for a singing program to be aired on NHK. After being accepted, he entered numerous karaoke contests, and finally caught the attention of the scouts of Victor.
As soon as he came on board, his management team suggested incorporating dance routines into “Umiyuki” (Ocean Snow) and retaining his hip-hop look. At first, however, he was against it, saying that it might communicate the message that he was making fun of enka. However, he agreed to experiment with it, and the risk paid off.
Jero notes that enka needed reinventing, as it is mostly a genre for the older Japanese population. As a black Japanese he hoped to bring a new style to the traditional genre. He said that one of the major reasons why he was given a lot of media attention was because he wasn’t full Japanese. He has often stated that he feels there should be more focus given to the songs and the music rather than the singer.
Jero will reach another milestone on June 25th, 2008 when he releases his first mini-album. This is certainly a welcome development for his growing fan base composed of a wide range of age groups. He has also been slated to appear on the TV commercial of a canned coffee drink called Fire Café Zero, produced by Kirin.
Jero dedicated his career to his grandmother, who had awakened in him a sense of culture and the desire to sing.