Harry Aoki 1931~ 2013 January 24th ~ Rest in Peace musical warrior

Harry Aoki  1931~ 2013 January 24th

Harry Aoki and his good friend Themba Tana – after the Musical Tribute for Harry at the Firehall Arts Centre.

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.

  1. Harry Aoki – a life of music | The Bulletin

    jccabulletin-geppo.ca › 08.06 June2008

    Jun 6, 2008 – The following article incorporates interviews done with Harry Aoki in 2001 and 2008. Some of the following has been printed previously in The

  2. Interview: Harry Aoki | The Bulletin

    jccabulletin-geppo.ca › Featured

    I sat down with Gary Cristall and Harry Aoki last week at Nikkei Place. Gary is writing a book on the history of folk music in Canada and had been wanting to talk

  3. Limelight : Harry Aoki | The Bulletin

    jccabulletin-geppo.ca › Limelight

    Harry Aoki, 87 years old and still going strong, was one of the three honourees from the Vancouver Asian community chosen for the North American Association

  4. Images for harry aoki

    – Report images

  5. Harry Aoki | Gung HAGGIS Fat Choy


    Harry Aoki plays his chromatic harmonica accompanied by Tembo on Afriacn Drum, Kyra on Cello, and John on trumpet. December 4, 2004 · Leave a reply

2 thoughts on “Harry Aoki 1931~ 2013 January 24th ~ Rest in Peace musical warrior

  1. catherine malcolm-brickman

    Dear Todd,

    I am Harry’s niece. I wanted to thank you for the posts you have dedicated to my uncle. Clearly, he had many great friends and you are one of them.

    It is hard to really know a person, even if you grow up with them. For me, Uncle was the one who taught us “Yo-ho little fishes” and other great folk songs. He was also the one who let us discover the fantastic crunch of potato chips into a microphone just before a show. He was the one who, with my mum, took us to our first movie – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And later, he recorded “Hushabye Mountain” on his big reel to reel machines. He taught us how to ski — which included not being allowed to use the rope tow until we could herringbone up the hill and “hop-turn” down. He was the reason our house was filled not just with great music – but “live” music. Jim Johnson, Lloyd Arntzen, Elmer Gill, Takeo Yamashiro, Linda Lee Thomas… as children, my brother and I had no idea what a rarified environment our home was.

    Uncle Harry shared many stories of the war and the internment. As I grew to understand those stories and the roots that engendered them, I learned not just my family’s living history, but the culture of what it means to be Canadian, a Japanese-Canadian, and for us, what it meant to be Japanese-Scottish-Canadians. “Racism,” said Harry, “can’t be washed away and you can’t hide it. It’s either there, or it isn’t. It’s that simple…and music is about he only place that I’ve found where racism just doesn’t seem present. It’s just music.”

    CBC’s recent tribute included a short interview with Uncle. Of the internment, he said, “We were born Canadians, and suddenly we weren’t welcome… We didn’t have a home anymore.” And so, it was through music that Harry sought to break down racism; and it is in music that he was always at home.

    Thank you too, to Joy Kogawa. I have read Obasan many times and never knew that Stephen was based on Uncle Harry. Knowing that will give my next reading new meaning. ~ Thank you Margaret Gallagher, not just for the beautiful tribute you made to Uncle on CBC, but for traveling with him to Cumberland. I remember many summers on the island with Uncle, my grandparents, mum & brother and Cumberland was always a part of those trips, as was Qualicum Beach. Thank you Jim Wong-Chu, for reminding us to remember our loved ones. But please don’t regret missing one last moment. Uncle Harry told me that we can go through life regretting the things we didn’t do, or, we can take the time we give to regret to just doing those things. He also said that if we don’t take that time for the “one last…” it’s because we probably had something else going on, and life’s too short to feel bad about that.

    Thank you Uncle, for all that you taught me. Yoku oyasumi nasai. ~ cathy

    1. admin Post author

      It’s all good Catherine… Harry was a friend, and we all miss him. He did indeed touch my life in many ways since first meeting him in 2002. And it was always fun to perform music together – whether it was Celtic music, Gypsy Music or Jazz… but of course I always felt intimidated 🙂


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