By JUN KURISU
If you weren’t at Centenary United Methodist Church the afternoon of the last Saturday in June, you didn’t miss a funeral service but you did miss a lively, nostalgic program called “Nisei Serenade,” which was composed of songs of the ’40s that all of the folks not named in The Rafu’s obituary sections yet will remember from camp days.
Sadly, the numbers of Nisei are dwindling, and here was an afternoon of nostalgia to remind us of the songs we listened to, sang or hummed to or danced to in camp.
It’s always a thrill to see the premiere, but do not despair if you missed it; Soji Kashiwagi, the writer and executive producer, is making arrangements for another showing, hopefully sooner than later.
Five beautiful and multi-talented young ladies made up the cast of the show depicting camp detainees keeping their spirits up by singing even during the depressing times of being incarcerated behind barbed wire. Sad tales were recounted but their smiles wavered and returned.
Ladies, remember the pompadour hairstyles of the ’40s era? Seeing them again and the “Sunday best” dresses and shoes brought back nostalgic memories. Kudos to June Hayashi, costumer; Naomi Yoshida, costumes; and Mitzi Toshima, wig master.
As talented as each of the five songstresses are, they were listed in the program in alphabetical order: Each one was a star. Each one had solos and they also sang as a quintet, beautifully and pitch perfect.
Lisa Horikawa is completing her fourth semester at the Conservatory of Music at Cal State University, Long Beach, where she is majoring in vocal performance. She has been active in Buddhist Churches of America and many Buddhist youth programs. After college, Lisa hopes to study in the field of music therapy, where she can help heal people through music.
Aimee Machida is a 2009 Nisei Week Court member. She sang in children’s church choirs. Her love of choirs led her to musical production at Citrus College. She continues to sing with the UC Irvine Jazz Singers and started an a cappella group. Above all, Aimee enjoys singing to the Lord on her church’s worship team.
Alyssa Nakamoto has been a member of the Grateful Crane Next Generation Youth since 2011. She is a broadcast journalism major and sports media studies minor at USC and works as a multimedia journalist and sports reporter there. One day she would like to work in local news or sports journalism.
Erika Mariko Olson was crowned Nisei Week Queen in 2011. She first studied voice with the late Sue Okabe and her daughter, Lisa Joe. She graduated cum laude in 2010 from the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at Cal State Long Beach with a B.M. in music performance. Erika is a classically trained soprano and hopes to sing in professional musicals, operas and choirs.
Miko Shudo currently attends the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, where she is studying jazz voice as well as other classical forms of music. She has been involved with Buddhist youth programs and has danced traditional odori with Azuma Kai for ten years. Miko loves volunteering and singing at the Keiro Retirement Home with the Grateful Crane Ensemble.
The only male in the program, Darrell Kunitomi, is a veteran performer, writer and director who seems to have been involved in nearly every JA/Asian theatrical production, even reprising his role at the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland.
It looked like the program was coming to an end and we didn’t see Mary Kageyama Nomura, “The Songbird of Manzanar.” But then she appeared, looking as good as she did in camp 70 years ago. She sang “St. Louis Woman” like a “Southerner” with a lot of verve that induced long and loud applause from the nearly full house. She joined the ensemble to sing “Jukebox Saturday Night.”
Lisa Joe and Keiko Kawashima did a super job of choosing the many, many songs that best represented the ’40s. The singers did not sing a cappella; the musical director, Scott Nakatani, played a lively piano while Miles Senzaki was on drums and J.P. Maramba was on bass. They did a superb job enhancing the singers.
By the sound of the applause when “Nisei Serenade” ended, the audience of gray-haired, as well as other hair-colored attendees, enjoyed listening to all of the songs that brought back many memories with a smile or even a tear or two. This reviewer awards a number of fans based on the quality of a performance. This one richly earns four fans.
The following are upcoming appearances of Grateful Crane that you can put on your calendar for the rest of this year:
• Nishi Hongwanji Obon Festival, Saturday, July 20, from 4:45 to 5:30 p.m. Featuring Keiko Kawashima and Grateful Crane Next Generation Youth Singers.
• “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” (world premiere), Sunday, Aug. 4, at 2 p.m. at the JACCC. “Remembering Sadako: Folding for Peace” event.
• “The Best of Grateful Crane” (all-time favorite songs from the past 12 years), Saturday, Sept. 21, at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Buddhist Church of Sacramento.
• “The J-Town Jazz Club,” Saturday, Oct. 26, at 2 p.m. at Nishi Hongwanji.
• “Nihonmachi: The Place to Be,” Saturday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. at the Aratani Theatre. This show is a benefit for the Little Tokyo Koban.
• “Home for the Holidays” (a holiday show for the entire family), Saturday, Dec. 7, at 2 p.m. at Maryknoll.
For information on these shows, call Grateful Crane at (310) 995-5841.