Picture this. A group of teenage boys - all wearing identical sport jackets and many sporting black, slicked-back hair - accompanied by a female vocalist and a Caucasian band leader. Their next steps would be onto the auditorium stage of the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple for the first time. It was 1953 and this group was a swing band known as the Lotus Skyliners. Within this group were Japanese American teenagers who were among the youngest incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II. Following the War, they and their families returned to reside in the Seattle area, many in the general vicinity of the Nisei Veteran’s Committee Memorial Hall.
Recognizing an urgent need to help JA youth within the community, leaders of the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple rolled up their sleeves and helped to nurture this band. It quickly became a community favorite and commanded the stage at many dances, school proms, private parties, weddings, and even a bar mitzvah. Over nine years, they also toured up and down the West Coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.
Kay Hirai, author of Yumi’s Life Lessons, Keiko’s Journey, and Sheer Determination, has joined author Randy Tada to publish a new book titled The Lotus Skyliners – A Big Band Lifts Up a Small Community. The book, which has been three years in the making, was the result of a promise that Kay made to Don Kinsley, the Skyliners’ band leader, before he passed away in 2014. As an ardent follower of the Skyliners, Kay felt the band’s unique journey was too important to overlook, so she pulled together five former band members and a group of volunteers to capture all the ups and downs of the nine years – from 1953 to 1962 – when the band was in existence.
In the book, there are many reflections of the role that the military played in the history of the Skyliners, starting with one of their first big performances at the Fort Lewis Officer’s Club. Following high school graduation, many of the band members volunteered to serve in the military. One member, Ron “Mamo” Yoshida, joined the U.S. Army only because he was promised a spot in their band. Following are the names of former Lotus Skyliners who enlisted in different branches of the military and where they served:
- Frank Fukui (alto saxophone) was in the U.S. Army in Okinawa and Thailand
- Shinya Ichikawa (trombone) served a two-year term as a U.S. Public Health Service Officer
- Bill Ishida (drums) was in the 1st Armored Division of the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas
- Fred Kikuchi (trombone) served in the U.S. Army
- Tetsuo Miyata (alto saxophone) was in the U.S. Army stationed in Germany
- Mori Moriguchi (alto saxophone) served with the U.S. Army in Germany
- Richard Nomura (bass) was in the Marine Corps in Vietnam
- Masao Tokita (trumpet) served with the military in Vietnam
- Ted Tomita (trombone) was in the National Guard Army Reserve
- Dennis Tsuboi (tenor saxophone) served in the U.S. Army Reserve
- Susumu Tsutsumi (guitar) served in the U.S. Army for twenty-six years and received numerous awards, service medals, and citations and was also a military contractor in civilian life
- Gary Yamashita (trumpet) served two years as a captain in the U.S. Army in Military Intelligence at the U.S. Army Management School in Fort Belvoir, Virginia
- Ron “Mamo” Yoshida (drums) played in the 22nd Army Band in Fort Mason, California
- Irwin Yoshimura (tenor saxophone) served in the U.S. Army for three years with basic training at Fort Ord, California and stints at Fort Rucker, Alabama, the Audie Murphy Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the Harvey Barracks in Germany.
This documentary book, which features all these veterans and others, was funded by a host of former Lotus Skyliners and their friends, accompanied by equally generous grants from the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and 4Culture of King County. Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is the fiscal sponsor and Chin Music Press is the publisher.
Make your plans to attend the first in-person book signing event:
Unforgettable – The Lotus Skyliners Story
Sunday, June 11, 2023, 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple
1427 S. Main St.
Seattle, WA 98144
Meet former Lotus Skyliners band members, purchase a book, and have it signed. Live music will be performed by the Pat & Rich2 Quartet. For additional information visit: www.lotusskyliners.com