‘Beautiful Red Flower’: A Captivating Chinese Folk Song for Lunar New Year

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn sit back to back holding their banjos as they are in shillouette with the light shining through a circular window

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn give a captivating performance on banjos of the traditional Chinese folk song 'Hao Hua / Beautiful Red Flower.' (Image: Jim McGuire via belafleck.com)

In February 2015, the bluegrass duo of Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck, who have a deep appreciation of Chinese culture, gifted the world for the Lunar New Year with a cover of a traditional Chinese Folk song called Hao Hua (Beautiful Red Flower) — but like you’ve never heard it before, being accompanied by a banjo instead of the pipa.

Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck have been hailed “the king and queen of the banjo,” and went on, in 2017, to win a Grammy Award for their self-titled debut album Echo in the Valley.

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Fleck has 15 Grammies under his belt for his musicianship. And Washburn brings the love of traditional Chinese folk music into the mix. She studied East Asian studies at college, being the first person in her school to major in it. She speaks Mandarin fluently and spent time living in China after her studies.

Listen to the song here:

Why the song ‘Beautiful Red Flower’ is special to Chinese

Abigail Washburn told NPR via email about why she was drawn to the song Beautiful Red Flower and why the red flower is special to China:

“Hao Hua Hong [ 好花红 ] literally means Good Flower Red. The lyrics of the song talk about the redness of the flower of the pear trees on the mountains above the Yan River. Redness is one thing when you stand at the base of a pear tree and gaze at one of her small red leaves blowing in the wind. Redness is a whole ‘nother thing when you stand on the far side of the Yan river and look back at the mountain covered in pear trees and it looks like a great mountain of fire against the sky, all because of the small red leaf of the pear tree.”

“Hao Hua Hong is an age-old folk song from the native Buyi people who live in the high mountain forests of Guizhou. I learned the song from a record of the artist Gong Linna called Traditional Chinese Folk Songs. Every time this song would go by as I listened to her record I was moved by the quality of her voice and the idea of one small red leaf making a mountain to look of fire.”

The folk song Beautiful Red Flower was inspired by China's Yangtze River and leaves turning red on the mountains.
China’s Yangtze River and a mountain with some leaves turning red, the type of landscape that inspired this folk song. (Image: Jingaiping via Dreamstime)

Here is the Gong Linna song Hao Hua Hong (Beautiful Red Flower) that inspired Washburn to do her own cover version with a banjo:


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