‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’: Why Greg Baldwin Will Never Sing Iroh’s ‘Leaves From the Vine’

Netflix made so many millennials happy when it announced in May that the entirety of Avatar: The Last Airbender would be available for streaming. 2020 marks fifteen years since the show first aired on Nickelodeon, and the show has remained iconic since its first airing. Now, with a chance to dive back into the show, many fans are rediscovering emotionally touching moments that they may have forgotten.

One particularly poignant scene features Uncle Iroh visiting his son’s grave. Iroh, at the time voiced by Mako Iwamatsu, sang a song at the grave. Now, Mako’s replacement voice actor, Greg Baldwin, refuses to sing the song. Here’s why. 

What happened to Uncle Iroh’s son?

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Uncle Iroh is one of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s most beloved characters. The wise general took custody of his nephew, Zuko, after he was burned by his father in an Agni Kai match. Iroh helped Zuko open his eyes to the variety of paths his life could take, and eventually inspired him to do good by Aang and his friends. 

Iroh grew to love Zuko as his own son, something that helped fill the space left behind by his actual son, Lu Ten.  

Back when Iroh still served as a general for the Fire Nation, he was renowned for his prowess and tactical genius. At the time, Iroh was laying siege to Ba Sing Se in the Earth Kingdom. During his six-hundred-day siege of the city, Iroh’s son was killed. Iroh lost all motivation and passion for power, and instead began grieving for his son. 

Iroh keeps a memorial grave for his son underneath a tree outside of Ba Sing Se, where he goes to pay his respects.

The ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ scene memorialized Mako Iwamatzu 

'Avatar: The Last Airbender' honors Mako Iwamatsu and his work as Uncle Iroh
‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ pays tribute to Mako Iwamatsu | Avatar: The Last Airbender via YouTube

Uncle Iroh was voiced by Mako Iwamatsu, often referred to as Mako, a Japanese voice actor famous for his work on a variety of cartoons. Iwamatsu is beloved of his fans, many of whom know him for his work on Avatar: The Last Airbender

Mako is also famous for his work on Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer, in which he played Akiro the Wizard. Fans will also remember his work in Samurai Jack, in which he voiced Aku. 

Unfortunately, Mako died in 2006, at age 72, after a diagnosis of esophageal cancer. Mako filmed one last episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender before his death entitled “The Tales of Ba Sing Se.” 

During this episode, Uncle Iroh visits Lu Ten’s grave beneath a tree. He sings a song entitled “Leaves From the Vine” in his son’s memory as tears well up in his eyes. For many fans, this is one of the most poignant scenes in the show. 

Shortly afterward the scene transitions to Iroh silhouetted as he sits beneath the tree. Text on the screen reads, “In honor of Mako.”  

Why Greg Baldwin refuses to sing ‘Leaves From the Vine’

After Mako Iwamatsu’s death, Greg Baldwin filled in his role in Avatar: The Last Airbender, as well as his role in Samurai Jack. Baldwin, an enormous fan of Mako’s, learned to imitate his voice by studying his role in Pacific Overture

Baldwin clearly holds Mako in the highest regards, and his love and respect for the actor have prevented him from fulfilling fan requests to sing “Leaves From the Vine.” 

Baldwin took to Twitter to explain his experience, writing, “I’m often asked to sing ‘Leaves From The Vine’ at Comicons.  Out of deep respect for Mako Iwamatsu…it’s one fan request I always decline. It’s Mako’s song…not mine.”