Magdalen Hsu-Li is a Chinese-American singer and songwriter. Her goal is to "uplift and inspire through music, art and the elements." The lyrics in her new album, Fire, investigate the problems of prejudice and injustice, while spreading the message of hope and understanding. She also hopes to break down stereotypes about Asian-Americans.
Magdalen Hsu-Li is an accomplished singer, songwriter, pianist, painter, lecturer, teacher and poet. In the 1960s, her parents emigrated to the U.S. from mainland China and Taiwan.
Growing up in the rural town of Martinsburg, Virginia, Magdalen had several cultural and psychological barriers to overcome. She was one of the few Asian-Americans in the area, and she suffered from Tourette's Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements and vocalizations.
Magdalen's songs about prejudice come from her personal encounters. She said, "I did experience racism and bigotry in a very overt way on a daily basis in my childhood, so it had a profound affect on me in many ways. It definitely helped me to become an artist, I think. It made me keenly aware of the fact that I was different from the people around me, and it also made me interested in saying something in response to what had happened to me."
The first song on Magdalen Hsu-Li's latest album, Fire, is called "Redefinition." She wrote it at a time when she was reviewing everything that had happened in her life, and was trying to find some emotional balance. "I thought about all the different people that I had been in my life," she said, "and how much I had changed. And I had really taken some big leaps of faith in changing my personality almost completely from one person into a new being. I went from being a very, very repressed young Asian girl growing up in the South who was sort of tortured and berated. And I blossomed into this artist and painter."
Other songs on Magdalen's album, Fire, have to do with following your dreams and lost love, as well as a tribute to gay student Matthew Shephard, who was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming.
When she's on the road, Magdalen Hsu-Li takes a different approach to performing than most musicians. Ms. Hsu-Li said, "I have done slide shows of my work in combination with discussions or talks. And I have workshops that I do on diversity awareness. I have a lot of different kinds of slide shows in regard to Asian artists and the influence of their work in Western culture and civilization, and so on and so forth."
Magdalen has a mission to advance the cause of Asian-Americans in the arts community. "There is a glass ceiling for Asian artists in the music industry in America," she said. "I hope to be the first contemporary Asian music artist in America to break through that glass ceiling. I encourage all Asian-Americans and people from all backgrounds to really get in touch with who they are, and, if they are artists, to really try to express something beautiful and valuable."
Magdalen Hsu-Li has just wrapped up an extensive tour of U.S. colleges, festivals and performing arts centers. In July, she plans to marry her long-time partner, co-writer and producer, Dale Fanning, and hopes to be on the road again in September.