Harry Aoki – remembered in Globe & Mail: overcame wartime internment to flourish as a musician

I wanted to let you know that Today’s Globe & Mail, features an obituary on Harry Aoki, who passed away on January 24th 2013, at age 91.

Harry Aoki and guitarist-singer Jim Johnson on their 1968 CBC-TV series, Moods of Man.
The character of Steven Nakane in both Joy Kogawa’s Obasan and Naomi’s Road – was partly inspired/based on Harry Aoki.

Joy Kogawa first heard of Mr. Aoki while listening to CJOC radio from Lethbridge, during her own internment.

“They had an annual talent show,” she recalls. “And Harry always placed second to the pianist Dale Bartlett. I remember him playing his harmonica and feeling so proud that here was a Japanese-Canadian with so much talent.”
They met years later and, when writing her celebrated novel, Obasan, Ms. Kogawa thought of Harry the wonderful musician and made the character Stephen a composite of him and her own brother.
He was 80 when he started the monthly world music get-together, First Friday Forum, bringing together musicians from all cultures and disciplines to play and talk. The monthly jam attracted musicians from around the globe – it was not uncommon to find artists from Russia, Mexico, Indonesia and India jamming away. Among them were African drummer Tembo Tano, Celtic violinist Max Nguen and Japanese flautist Chieko Konishi-Louie.
He was active in the campaign to save the Vancouver childhood home of Ms. Kogawa, as well as the Powell Street Festival, the annual celebration of Japanese-Canadian culture. He was also involved in Vancouver’s annual celebration that fuses Chinese New Year with Robert Burns Day (Jan. 25), Gung Haggis Fat Choy
– photo Deb Martin
For the first Open House event, September 2006, after the saving of Historic Joy Kogawa House, from the threat of demolition….Harry performed on his double bass, myself on accordion, his friend Masako Watanabe on guitar…. with Jessica Cheung, opera soprano, who performed the role of Naomi – for the Vancouver Opera Touring Ensemble of “Naomi’s Road.”

– photo Deb Martin

On March 1st, Friday, 6-10pm  – There will be a Celebration of Life musical tribute for First Friday Forum – held at St. John’s College, UBC, for Harry Aoki.

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