Coming up soon is the “Day of Remembrance,” held every February 19 in states like California, Oregon, and Washington. This day commemorates the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II—an event that touched the life of singer Pat Suzuki.
If you have ever seen the movie Biloxi Blues, you’ll remember the chilling melody from the opening credits. As a soon-to-be WWII soldier (Matthew Broderick) gloomily stares out the window, this song floats throughout the theater. Even though this song was not released until 1959, long after the war ended, it fits perfectly as a haunting lullaby that matches the war era.
For those of you who have not seen Biloxi Blues (which I recommend you watch), may I introduce to you Pat Suzuki. Born Chiyoko Suzuki, this woman is a remarkable singer as well as a wonderful example of inner resilience.
A few months after World War II started, the Suzuki family and thousands of other Japanese-Americans were sent to American concentration camps. Pat and her family spent this time in the Granada War Relocation center in Colorado.
Although this was a traumatic time, afterwards Pat went on to secure a job in a nightclub named The Colony. While performing one night, Bing Crosby saw her and helped her to make albums and get onto The Frank Sinatra Show. She is also best known for starring in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway production of the musical Flower Drum Song in 1958.
So as you can see, she went on to do great things. But I believe you can still hear the sorrow of those times in the camp in her beautiful rendition of “How High the Moon,” from her album Miss Pony Tail, my favorite of her songs. Very contrary to the upbeat version by Ella Fitzgerald, Pat’s interpretation of this song is slow. As you listen to it, with the soft voice and the eerie, descending chord progression turning the key minor, its exotic sound for the 1950s makes you feel introspective.
This dreamy ballad may not be the techno-pop sound of today that makes you want to get up and “put your hands in the air like you just don’t care,” but it does make you want to slow dance. When I hear this song, I think of my grandparents, back when they were young, slowly waltzing at some high school dance. And I think any song that can make you think on such lovely memories is worth your time to hear.
Tuned In is a regular music column written by Michele Haeberlin, Current Staff.
(Image: Pat Suzuki in 1967, by photographer Friedman Abeles, via Wikimedia Commons.)