Harry Aoki 1931~ 2013 January 24th
Harry and I had so much fun at Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinners in both Vancouver and Seattle. He was a staunch supporter of the “Save Kogawa House Campaign” and performed with us at the house many times. He played his harmonica as a “gift” for Joy, when she gave the speech at the Canadian Club of Vancouver’s “Order of Canada” luncheon…. And last year, to see Harry on stage at UBC, representing his brother, for the degrees to the Japanese-Canadian former UBC Students who could not finish their degrees because of the internment. It was an honour to play at Harry’s Tribute at the Firehall Arts Centre a few years ago…. and to play at his monthly First Friday events.
I first met Harry Aoki through Asian Heritage Month events around 2002. Margaret Gallagher (CBC Radio) raved about Harry, as he sometimes performed with her.
It was a real treat to have Harry perform at the 2006 Canadian Club Vancouver “Order of Canada” luncheon where Dal Richards introduced himself to Harry, then invited Harry to be interviewed on his radio show. Harry had played his harmonica, and talked about the internment and his journey.
In 2006, the first open house event at Historical Joy Kogawa House in 2006, captured on film for the CBC documentary Generations: The Chan Legacy.
Harry and I would meet sometimes at Oakridge Mall. I was working at the library, and he lived nearby at the time. Sometimes he would just drop in and ask for me. Sometimes I would phone him and arrange to meet him at my lunch or dinner time. These chats were always a pleasure.
I was thinking about acknowledging Harry at last night’s dinner – with a performance of “Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife” – but I got so caught up in the momentuum of the event, I forgot to do something. Maybe Harry was just prodding me… “Keep the show rolling”
You can listen to fiddler Jocelyn Pettit perform “Neil Gow’s Lament” here on an Alaskan Cruise
Harry would really have enjoyed the chance to perform with Jocelyn… she was one of the inspirations at our 2011 Gung “Hapa” Fat Choy Dinner that inspired the creation of Hapa-Palooza Festival.
Here are some emails from friends about Harry, that they have shared with me, and thought we would share with readers.
When I was a kid in Coaldale Alberta, the name Harry Aoki was magic to me. He played ‘Intermezzo’ on his harmonica for the annual CJOC radio talent contest in Lethbridge and I was beside myself with pride. He always came in second behind Dale Bartlett who was the best pianist around. I thought about Harry when I was writing Obasan and based the character Stephen the musician on him. Thank you Todd, for being a stalwart friend of Harry’s. I weep for him. And for all the niseis who are leaving. ~ Joy Kogawa
I have so many fond memories of Harry…meeting him at the Nikkei Centre for the first time, his 80th birthday party musical jam in the Marr garage, so many First Forum Fridays, the tribute to him at the Firehall and later at UBC, him lugging that bass EVERYWHERE!
But I will always deeply cherish the trip we made to Cumberland when they renamed the mountain and built the new fence around the Japanese cemetery, and he showed me around his boyhood town. He was an amazing person who gave so much to us all. ~ Margaret Gallagher
Sometimes in our busy lives we always invariably do not give enough attention to those we love, always thinking they would somehow live forever or we will always me up or bump into each other at some late stage. I have seen many such people I admired come and gone – often regretting not having that one more moment to share together. The key to one’s life is memory – as long as Harry stays in our memory and we keep talking about him and listening to his music, he lives.
Perhaps we should gather annually together and share a meal as an act of remembrance of those passed and tell meaningful stories of how they lived and their impact on each of us? ~ Jim Wong-Chu
Here are some links to articles about Harry – many on the JCCA Bulletin – but I am pleased that a lot of my pictures of Harry come up.