Lang Lang turns 33 today. The Liaoning-born pianist first appeared in the South China Morning Post in September 1996, when the 14- year-old performed with the China National Symphony Orchestra in Beijing, in front of president Jiang Zemin. Fourteen years later, Lang Lang (below) played for another Chinese president, Hu Jintao, at the White House, in the United States. On that occasion, the pianist raised eyebrows by performing the theme song to Battle on Shangganling Mountain, an anti-American film about the Korean war. Also on the bill that evening was Dee Dee Bridgewater …

The Grammy Award-winning American jazz singer has also had success treading the boards, having won a Tony Award in 1975 for her portrayal of Glinda the Good Witch, in the musical The Wiz. In 2007, Bridgewater told the SCMP that she had finally found her “direction” after travelling to Mali three years earlier to reconnect with her African roots. Her subsequent album, Red Earth: A Malian Journey, featured singers she had met on that trip, as well as a number of protest songs against the slave trade. Bridgewater is also an ambassador for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, a body that was directed from 1956 to 1967 by Binay Ranjan Sen …

The diplomat and civil service officer served as India’s relief commissioner during the Bengal famine of 1943, which saw about three million people die from starvation or a related illness. A political sort, Sen also harboured a spiritual side. Of a meeting in March 1952, in Los Angeles, he wrote, “As I looked into his face, my eyes were almost dazzled by a radiance – a light of spirituality that literally shone from him. His infinite gentleness, his gracious kindliness, enveloped my wife and me like warm sunshine.” The man being described was Paramahansa Yogananda …

The Indian yogi and guru would be dead a few days after that encounter. At the end of a banquet held in Sen’s honour in Los Angeles, Yogananda spoke of his hope for a united world that would combine the best qualities of “efficient America” and “spiritual India”, read a few lines of poetry and then slumped to the floor. His followers said he had entered mahasamadhi, the act of intentionally leaving one’s body; doctors claimed his heart had failed. Born in Uttar Pradesh in 1893, Yogananda first travelled to the US in 1920, where he won over as a follower Clara Clemens …

The second of three daughters born to Samuel Clemens, who wrote as Mark Twain, Clara was a concert singer who found love after a near death experience. In 1908, aged 34, she went for a sleigh ride with Russian pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch. The horse took fright and the sleigh overturned. Gabrilowitsch leapt to the ground and prevented the horse from bolting 18 metres down a slope, dragging with it Clemens, whose dress had caught in a runner. Within a year, Clara and her hero were married. Gabrilowitsch was later offered the post of conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He turned it down, and put forward for the role Sergei Rachmaninoff …

The composer, pianist and conductor came from a family that had served the tsars of Russia since the 16th century. After the 1917 revolution, however, he no longer felt at home, so, with his family, he fled on a sled to Helsinki, and from there found his way to the US. This was not his first time on American soil, though. On a 1909 tour of the country, he had composed his Piano Concerto No 3, which, in 2002, would be the subject of an SCMP music review. The performer of “Rach 3” was a 19-year-old who had “already lived up to his name, which means ‘brilliant’”: Lang Lang.