At the 1969 Ewha May Day Festival, a student was offered a TV show appearance by a famous singer, Patti Kim, after singing as a student representative. Here began the story of Jeong Mi-jo, a graduate of Ewha, starting her life again as a singer. In those days, as school regulations banned students from engaging in activities outside the school, she considered graduation as a top priority and gave up the offer.
“It surely was a fascinating offer, but my life at Ewha was much more important,” Jeong said. “I loved being at school.”
As if to prove Jeong’s committment to education, she was the student president of College of Fine Arts for four years. Moreover, her campus life was full of interesting episodes.
“When I first entered the dorm in Jinseonmi-gwan Room 209, my senior roommate heard me singing and asked me to sing in front of the whole dormitory,” Jeong said. “After that, I gained recognition at school and this led to more performances, including a solo stage during chapel.”
Right after graduation, she made a debut in April, 1972, singing “My Way” on the TBC TV program “Show Show Show.”
“I received calls from all three major broadcasting companies at the time,” Jeong remembered. “Even though my debut as a singer was successful, the entertainment industry was not as systematized as it is now. I still remember making my own stage clothes at a tailor shop, managing my own schedule and moving to different studios all by myself.”
After numerous trials of making her own stage costumes, she came to realize that it was too much for her to handle everything herself. Then, she asked Andre Kim, an eminent fashion designer, for help.
“Andre Kim was kind enough to design all of my stage costumes for seven years,” Jeong said. “I even had a chance to walk the runway for his fashion shows.”
When her career had reached its peak, she decided to go abroad to study art.
“I became a singer not for materialistic goals but for my own enthusiasm in singing,” Jeong said. “I never expected to be that successful for such a long time and made up my mind that it was time for me to return to art.”
Jeong chose France where she could concentrate on her studies and be free from singing. However, studying in a foreign country was not an easy task. She had difficulties in taking college lectures and writing a thesis in a foreign language.
“It was the most challenging time of my life,” Jeong said with tears brimming in her eyes. “But the time in France enabled me to find my true self. While living with people with diverse cultural backgrounds, I realized my own identity more than ever before.”
The years of living abroad led her to a new world in art as well. Rather than focusing on the visible world, she became more interested in exploring the world of shadows and spirits and expressing it on canvas.
“Quite honestly, I went to study abroad without fear,” Jeong reminisced of her decision to study abroad. “I had no idea how lonely it would be. Fortunately, I was able to overcome depression with the help of friends. I made the loveliest friends during my years in Paris. We still get together to this day and share each other’s concerns.”
Upon returning to Korea, Jeong taught at the College of Arts & Design of the University of Suwon for 22 years. After retirement, she now has a new ambition of interacting with young people as a musician once again. Performing at jazz festivals, where many young people gather, is one of her goals. She is also planning to perform at Veloso, a music café near Hongik University, on April 29.
“Being a professor for 22 years has made me feel accustomed to spending time with students,” Jeong expressed. “My target audience is young people now. I want to expand my listeners’ age range from people in their 20s to those in their 70s. I want to interact with young people and live without being tied down to a specific age.”
A western painting major began her life as a singer. Then, she spent her years as a professor, delivering her knowledge of painting to students.
When asked whether she enjoyed painting or singing more, she could not immediately decide and further shared her passion for dancing as well.
“For me, dancing, singing and painting are different mediums to express my passion for arts,” Jeong added. “Dancing expresses through movements, singing through sound, and visual art through painting. The relations were simple to me, and that was why I was able to move in and out of many fields. Of course, they all have pros and cons, but everything has two sides.”
As a final remark, Jeong emphasized, “I always told my students to make lots of friends in college and think about what they want to do for a living after graduation.”
“To become a specialist, it is necessary to make time separately to research and study their chosen path,” Jeong said. “One should choose what one can do joyfully that makes others appreciate, perfect it, and do it better than others. It is really up to how much effort they pour into it. This is true in any fields.”