KT Tunstall’s history comes full circle


I don’t often blog about music or musicians, but lately I’ve been fascinated by KT Tunstall, a singer from Scotland whose debut album is a recent hit.  When I heard her first big hit, "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," on the radio, I immediately thought, wow, a pop song.  She’s not a teen idol, country musician, American Idol winner, or hiphop artist.  She is an honest-to-goodness pop-rock singer, the kind who doesn’t come along very often nowadays.  Her music style reminds me of Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, and Michelle Branch.  I’m interested in seeing how her career fluorishes over the next few years.  Of the singers mentioned, all have enjoyed commercial success, although their first couple of albums were inevitably more popular than their follow-on releases.  They are usually best known for one or two hits.  KT Tunstall’s music is refreshing to hear amidst all the clutter on contemporary Top 40 radio.  I was surprised to find out that she grew up in Scotland, because her sound does not conjure images of the Scottish highlands.  Her strong, soulful, folk music style sound more like it originated from Nashville, not Edinburgh, Scotland.
 
I don’t want to dwell on Tunstall’s music.  You’ll have to listen for yourself to decide whether you like her style.  What I find most interesting is her personal history.  According to Answers.com, KT’s biological mother is of Chinese descent, and her father is Irish.  She was born in Edinburgh and adopted at birth by the Tunstall family.  The fact that her ancestry is partially Chinese in the land of the Scots piqued my interest.  It took a little sleuthing to learn a more about her personal history.  I found the following information on Scotsman.com:
She is quarter-Cantonese. Her grandmother was Chinese, but her mother, a dancer, was born in Edinburgh and has lived there all her life. Seven years ago, Tunstall tracked her down, after having seen Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies. "It’s such an outrageously awful, brilliant film, the story of a black woman who discovers her mother is white. I watched it and thought, ‘I could handle that. And if I could handle that, I could surely handle anything.’"

Her father is Irish and worked in a bar, but despite trying, she has never found him. In any case, it seemed natural to trace her mother first. "Your mother is a woman who could have had a termination and didn’t," she says. "Your father could have been a one-night-stand who hasn’t been seen since."

She is intrigued by the 18 days before she was adopted. "I find it fascinating to think that for two weeks I didn’t have a mother. You have this short time when you have no idea what this baby’s future is going to be."

Did she ever feel abandoned? "No, but there have been moments… I met her seven years ago, and that was a strange process. You go through moments of thinking, ‘Actually, how does that work, and what was she feeling?’ But you just have to keep asking questions. At the end of the day, you are meeting a stranger. I’ve known her seven years, but that’s not long. I have to be slightly protective of the relationship, because we still have a long way to go."

Because Tunstall’s biological grandmother is Chinese, it is quite likely that her grandfather, a Scot, lived for a time in China, probably in Hong Kong, during the 1920’s and/or 1930’s.  He most likely met her grandmother, fell in love with her in Victoria or Kowloon, married her, and brought her back with him to Edinburgh.  Tunstall’s grandmother did what Pocahontas had done in 1616, when she moved to England with her husband John Wolfe (not John Smith, as is popularly assumed).  Although Tunstall’s grandmother likely experienced British culture in China or Hong Kong, migrating to Scotland must have been an immensely life-changing experience.  She very likely never returned to Asia because of the difficulty traveling before the advent of trans-continental air travel and World War II.  Now, her granddaughter is a famous musician, and her music has found its way to Asia.  Tunstall’s popularity has definitely brought her full circle with her Asian heritage.
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8 thoughts on “KT Tunstall’s history comes full circle

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