Saturday, April 26, 2008

Vocals: Singing Dragon

Singing Dragon Singing (Sittin' on the Dock)

Singing Dragon Singing

Interview with Singing Dragon

Artist: Mitchell “Singing Dragon” Hughes
Medium: Vocals
Location: Times Square on the downtown Q platform

Singing Dragon has been singing for nearly 60 years, and he’s still at it. Now, you might think that Singing Dragon is an odd nick-name for a South Carolinian rice planter. And you might think that he got the name from the fact that he’s still singing even though he’s become ancient, but you’d be wrong on both counts. Rather, Mitchell Hughes’ name is entirely sensible and he got it from the Chinese zodiac. Born in the Year of the Dragon, Mr. Hughes explained to me that he, the Singing Dragon, happened to be born in the same year as Bruce Lee, the Little Dragon (Bruce Lee’s Chinese name is Lee Xiao Long, literally Little Dragon Lee. So yeah, asking for “Bruce Lee” in China only results in quizzical stares from all parties involved).

As suggested by his zodiac, Singing Dragon is quite strong and vibrant personality. Despite his age, Singing Dragon was constantly joking and smiling as he spoke with me and had enough energy to belt out song after song over the din of the subway. But is not to say that Singing Dragon is still young. In New York with his sister, when I asked him how long he’d been here Singing Dragon looked off across the subway platform to the tracks, as if remembering another train station far away and told me “too long.”

Originally from South Carolina, Mitchell Hughes is, as he told me, a Geechee, or rice person. Growing up on a farm Mitchell and his family planted rice when he was young. When Mitchell’s mother made him and his siblings participate in the church choir, however, Mitchell’s skills eventually took him to join a gospel group in New York. After the group broke up Mitchell joined a band – the first tune he learned was “I’m a Soul Man.” Singing such popular music left it’s mark on Mitchell who has gone on to write his own music and cites influences from Ottis Redding, to Johnny Taylor to Tyrone Davis.

Although he occasionally seems weary of the city, Singing Dragon made it clear that he does enjoy signing in public. “Why I sing in the subway? It’s a big audience” he also added “the money is fun.” However, Singing Dragon’s preferred venue is the club work he does as it affords him the chance to get dressed up in a nice suit and be a real showman.

Singing Dragon is quite proud of his ancestry and pointed out that, as his adopted name implies, he does have some Chinese blood in him dating back to the Ming dynasty in Southern China. As mentioned, he is also of Geechee ancestry and that comprises virtually ever Latin American place from which the Spanish took people to work in their South Carolinian plantations including Puerto Rico, Dominican, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico and Guyana.

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