This week, we feature an LP album of Chinese Folk Songs entitled Ellie Mao: An Anthology of Chinese Folk Songs, Accompanied by Anna Mi Lee. The copy that MOCA has received from our generous donor, Eleanor Wu Clifford, is unique in that it was signed and personalized by Ellie herself. Signed “To dear Eleanor + Paul, With good wishes, Ellie Mao X’mas, 70”, it was a gift to our donor, Eleanor, for Christmas and to also commemorate her marriage with Paul that same year in 1970. Eleanor recalls taking a Mandarin class at CUNY Hunter College taught by Ellie, who was then known as Professor Ellie Mok; we assume this was most likely her married name.
Ellie Mao, also known as Ellie Mao Mok, was a Chinese singer who immigrated to the United States and studied at the Julliard School of Music as well as the Teachers College of Columbia University. Anna Mi Lee, her accompanist, was also born in China and studied music at the National Conservatory of Music in Chungking before coming to the United States and graduating from the Juilliard as well, as a solo pianist. This album is the culmination of Ellie’s research into Chinese folk songs, and as stated in the album inserts, comprises songs from various regions of China including but not limited to Szechuan, Yunnan, Sinkiang, and Tsing Hai. Many of these songs are most likely familiar to many readers and the entire album can be accessed through this YouTube playlist and purchased through Smithsonian Folkways. For those looking for the songs played in the original media, the Internet Archive seems to have digitized it straight from vinyl.
The songs are presented in a more contemporary style, with the lyrics sung in Mandarin as opposed to the original dialect. The songs are also accompanied by a piano rather than using more traditional Chinese instruments or completely doing without any accompaniment altogether. Nevertheless, the songs showcase the variety of different musical genres and styles present in Chinese folk music in a way that would be more accessible to listeners outside of a specific region of China.