Sharleen Inouye

RAFU STAFF REPORT

Sharleen Inouye, a long-time member of the singing group Asian Persuasion, passed away on March 5. She was 73.

Asian Persuasion, an Asian American vocal harmony group based in Southern California, performs favorite songs from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, including doo-wop, Motown, and pop. Kenny Itagaki (Inouye’s older brother), Gary Asamura and Dave Suga started the group over 40 years ago with Inouye and Jeff Louie joining later. They invited their audiences to relive the “oldies but goodies” of their youth.

In recent years, Asian Persuasion has appeared at such events as Keiro no Hi, Boogie at the Bonenkai, Higashi Honganji Obon Festival, Monterey Park Cherry Blossom Festival, Gardena Valley JCI Matsuri, and Big Budokan Bash.

The group said in a social media post on March 26, “It is with great sadness and feeling of loss that we announce the passing of Sharleen Inouye from her battle with cancer … We will always remember her engaging smile, sincere friendship, and tender heart. She was our shining star.”

Born on July 20, 1948 at White Memorial Hospital in Boyle Heights, Inouye grew up in the Boyle Heights and Mid-City/Crenshaw areas and attended Los Angeles High School. She was a legal secretary and worked for a medical malpractice firm in Century City for 30 years.

Asian Persuasion (from left): Ken Itagaki, Gary Asamura, Sharleen Inouye, Jeff Louie.

Her parents owned and operated Ginza, a nightclub in Little Tokyo, where the talent was primarily an all-female band and dancers.

According to her daughter, Erin Inouye-Piller, Inouye was a member of Asian Persuasion off and on through the years but was more committed once she retired.

“In the past 5-6 years the group would meet and practice at her and my Uncle Kenny’s house every Sunday,” Inouye-Piller said. “She would always buy snacks and/or bento for their break, and that was her favorite part …

“My mom was a people person but very shy. She would get nervous (like really nervous) prior to every show and would always say that would be her last one because of the stress. But it was that good stress and she stayed with it ’til the end. 

“She didn’t aspire to be a performer but I believe was inspired by her older brother and family environment … She learned to play the piano as a child and would love to sing.  She would always want people to sing with her (not alone) and say, ‘Come on, let’s harmonize.’

“My Uncle Kenny remembers they were in a short-lived band after high school with two other friends and won a series of singing contests in Long Beach. He can’t remember the name of the venue or band.

“She didn’t have a favorite song but did love ‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong, She grew up in the Motown era but also loved jazz, pop, and standards.”

She was married to Kenji Inouye. “Once they divorced she never remarried,” her daughter said. “I am her only daughter. And she dedicated her life to me.

“My mother was a giver. She was a listener. She was a true and fair friend to all. She never judged or complained. She had the true aloha spirit and wanted people to be together, eat, and laugh.”

Inouye is also survived by her son-in-law, Rick Piller; granddaughter, Sydney Piller (who is a musician); brother, Ken Itagaki; sister, Jaimee Itagaki; nephew, Brandon Itagaki, and his daughters, Sara and Taylor Itagaki.

A celebration of life is planned for Sunday, May 1, at Duke’s Malibu. At the end of May, the family is taking her ashes to Ojai, per her request.

One of Inouye’s many fans is community activist Jeff Chop, who posted on social media, “Sharleen lit up the stage with her band. When Asian Persuasion was on the stage, the music was artful soul and harmonies. You could feel their friendship and tender hearts. They played together over 40 years — centuries for a band. Sharleen was their shining star … Rest in peace.”

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