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Reality-show singer to bring soulful voice to Beijing

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2016-02-19 10:02

"For years, there weren't many soul and jazz singers on the local music scene. Tia came along and blew us away with her fresh and free music," Liu says.

Like the character in The Girl A Chu, Yuan was born and grew up in a small town in Hunan province. Her house was surrounded by mountains and rivers, a setting that gave Yuan an idyllic childhood.

Since her parents divorced when she was little, Yuan's mother supported them by running a small family business.

When Yuan decided to study acting at the Beijing Film Academy, her mother sold their shop to pay for her education.

"I didn't feel deprived. It just made me appreciate how fortunate I am now," Yuan says.

The self-taught singer-songwriter didn't recognize her own talent until her roommates asked her to sing every night in the dormitory after the lights were out.

"I was a shy girl but the idea of liberation in acting enabled me to sing my heart out," Yuan says.

Like many others on the Chinese mainland, she listened to lots of music from Hong Kong and Taiwan as a teenager.

However, at 16, she discovered soul and jazz when she watched a live show at a Beijing bar.

"It was the first time that I watched a live performance, which totally changed my idea about music. The American singer, named Big Mama, performed with a wireless microphone and walked through the audiences downstairs and upstairs. It was so cool," recalls Yuan.

At 18, she brought in money for the family by singing at five-star hotels in Beijing. She uses the name Tia Ray to introduce herself, in honor of soul legend Ray Charles.

In 2015, Yuan performed at the Shanghai Jazz Festival, jamming with Joss Stone, who was also there. They sat in the balcony of the UK singer-songwriter's hotel room and sang each other's songs.

"I am not in a hurry to achieve anything, such as fame and fortune. What really matters to me is learning and making friends in the world of the music," she says.

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