Born in Cumberland, BC in 1921, Harry Aoki’s early life was deeply affected by the racism he experienced as a Canadian of Japanese descent. But instead of being embittered by his experience, he turned to music as a way of developing communication and understanding among people. As a young man he largely taught himself how to play the harmonica and upright bass while working across British Columbia and Alberta. His memories of pre-war musical culture in Vancouver fill an almost-forgotten gap in our history.
Despite his unconventional background, Harry’s virtuosic talents have been widely recognized. In the 1960’s, he co-hosted a weekly programme on CBC TV Network called “Moods of Man” that featured folk, jazz, blues, and classical music. In 1978, he was musical director for the opening ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton.
Years before the term “world music” became popular, Harry was pioneering the fusion of different musical cultures and finding our common threads. Over the years he has tirelessly worked to promote intercultural communication and understanding while mentoring younger musicians and artists.
Harry’s honors include a Spotlight on Leadership award from the Vancouver Chapter of the national Association of Asian American Professionals in 2008. The Coastal Jazz and Blues Society sponsored an evening with harry as part of the 2008 Vancouver jazz festival and he has been honored at the explorASIAN festival celebrating Asian Heritage Month.
The Aoki Legacy Fund
In recognition of Harry Aoki’s unique contributions to Canadian multiculturalism, his friends, in partnership with St. John’s College at the University of British Columbia, have established the Aoki Legacy Fund. The Fund will be used to further Harry’s vision for intercultural harmony by equipping a new generation of Canadian and global citizens for a multicultural world.
With Harry’s creative work in mind, the fund will be used for programming concerts, workshops, readings, artist residencies, and opportunities to explore intercultural connections and encourage dialogue among artists, musicians, scholars, and members of the community.
The fund will also be used to further develop the First Friday Forum, an ongoing project created by Harry at the National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre to explore and share the experience of culture and identity through music and dialogue
Source: Harry Aoki Legacy Fund Dinner and Concert, May 6, 2011
St. John’s College, University of British Columbia