News / Arts & Entertainment

Korean-American BettySoo Took Long Route to Music Career

BettySoo with her band.
BettySoo with her band.
Katherine Cole

Texas singer-songwriter BettySoo’s fourth CD, “When We’re Gone” is a collection of songs that deal with the messy parts of life we all go through. The Asian-American folk singer took a long route to a singing career.

When she was growing up just outside of Houston in Spring, Texas, “singer-songwriter” wasn’t near the top of BettySoo’s list of things to do when she grew up. It wasn’t that she didn’t love performing; it just didn’t seem like a serious career choice for an American-born daughter of two doctors who came here from Korea a few years before she was born.

“My parents were enough like the typical Korean parents that we did not feel like we were going to be musicians. Actually, that’s not totally true---they still really encouraged studying hard and wanted us to get straight A’s [on report cards], that whole thing," she said. "But, they always said don’t become a doctor or a lawyer because you want to please us. Of all the things you are interested in, choose one of those things. Because, you’re going to wait until we die and you’ll resent it. And it will be too late to pursue those things.”

Korean-American BettySoo Took Long Route to Music Career
Korean-American BettySoo Took Long Route to Music Careeri
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BettySoo studied English in college and was 26 years old, in graduate school and working on a masters degree in counseling, before she even gave serious thought to singing professionally. She says she’s glad she had that time in school, even if she didn’t finish, because it taught her to listen and to also dig a little deeper to try to find the “backstory” that makes people do what they do…

“In college, I was also an education minor and that was one of those things that you learn about there, too," she said. "You know, a kid walks in to your classroom and maybe they’re acting up. Instead of just addressing the behavior, there’s this reminder that you always have to tell yourself that there’s more story there than you know. Something could be going on at home. Something could be going on on the playground. Something could be going on medically. Every person you encounter, there are deeper stories there. There are scars and painful histories that you might not be the one to hear, but they’re there.”

BettySoo wrote her first song in 1984, and released her first CD a year later. Soon, she was winning prestigious songwriting contests and performing at festivals and in clubs not just across the United States, but also in Canada and Europe. She credits living in the music hub of Austin, Texas for helping her learn her craft and advancing quickly.

“People taught me how to write press releases, how to do publicity, how to book shows, the art of performance, all kinds of things. And it wasn’t necessarily ‘sit down and teach you,’ but you were just surrounded by it," she said. "And you were surrounded by people who did it well and people who didn’t do it well. And that was a really great education.”

Today, BettySoo is paying back that generosity, making herself available to musicians who are just starting out - offering to share their songs with other singers, giving advice on publicity materials and website design.  

“I mean I guess there are now resources online or in books or in seminars or workshops where people can kind of learn how to do this ‘thing’…but I don’t think people who are trying to chase a dream should have to pay thousands of dollars to learn how to do it,” she said.

When BettySoo’s first CD appeared, much was made of how unusual it was to find an Asian-American woman singing onstage at a folk festival. Today, with four solo releases and several collaborations, reviews focus first on her stellar singing and songwriting - a sure sign she’s moved into the mainstream.

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