“From Barbed Wire to Boogie Woogie,” a program exploring the impact of swing music and dance on Japanese American youth in wartime concentration camps, was presented on June 17 at the Japanese American National Museum.
In the Tateuchi Democracy Forum, dance preservationist Rusty Frank moderated a conversation with former incarcerees June Aochi Berk and Takayo Tsubouchi Fischer, who met at the Rohwer camp in Arkansas when they were 10 years old and have been friends ever since. Frank, Berk and Fischer have used swing dance to educate the public about the camps.
In the Aratani Central Hall, attendees danced to popular tunes from the 1940s played live by The Fabulous Esquires Big Band under the direction of Eric Brundin, with Frank leading a beginning swing dance lesson. The following songs were performed:
Instrumentals: “Leap Frog,” “American Patrol,” “Little Brown Jug,” “Begin the Beguine,” “You’ll Never Know,” “On the Atchison Topeka & the Santa Fe,” “Dream,” “In the Mood,” “One O’clock Jump,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Jeep Jockey Jump,” “Strings of Pearls,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “Moonlight Serenade”
Sung by Danny Freyer: “The Story of a Starry Night,” “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Come Fly with Me,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”
Sung by Kathleen Jequinto: “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “At Last,” “All the Things You Are,” “Stuff Like That There”
Sung by both: “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”
After the event, Frank posted on Facebook, “These nonagenarian friends of mine — June Berk and Takayo Fischer, both 90, and Bill Hayes 98 — are extraordinarily special to me. In their long lives they have experienced ups and downs, and everything in between, and the result is resiliency, a tremendous life spirit, and tons of joy.
“They also have this unique gift when I’m with them in which they make me feel that I am the best me possible. I’m having a hard time putting this into words, but I hope you know what I mean. I will strive to carry this forward for others … They always, always, always inspire me.”
The program was held in conjunction with JANM’s exhibition “Don’t Fence Me In: Coming of Age in America’s Concentration Camps.”
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo