Tag Archives: k-pop

Kpop battle final ver2

LA Festival Presents K-pop Singing & Dancing Battle

Have you dreamed of taking the stage like your favorite K-pop singers? The Korea Daily (Joongang Ilbo) and the LA Korean Festival Foundation (LAKFF) may have just what you’re looking for to make your daydreams a bit more concrete.

The 4th K-pop Singing & Dancing Battle is back, and it kicks off with a preliminary round on Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Finalists will then compete at the 41st Korean Cultural Festival on Friday, Sept. 19, at the Seoul International Park in Koreatown.

The first-place winner will receive $500 and a smartphone. Two second-place winners will receive $200 each, and popularity prizes in the form of $100 will be awarded to another two teams.

For contest rules and to register, visit this link. You can register until 5 p.m. on Aug. 29 for free. For more information, you can visit www.lakoreanfestival.org, email ukdec2013@gmail.com or call (213) 368-2675/2543. You can also check out the event’s Facebook page.

Preliminary Round
Saturday, Sept. 6
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Korean Cultural Center
5505 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Final Round
Friday, September 19
Seoul International Park in LA Koreatown (Friday night of the Korean Cultural Festival)

Kpop battle ver3

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KCON 2014: Presenting Quirky Korean Rocker Jung Joon Young

by TONY KIM

“I like ‘Gangnam Style,’ but how come, in Gangnam, none of the clubs play it?”

Jung Joon Young posed this seemingly earnest question to none other than Psy himself, who was acting as a judge on Mnet’s music talent show Superstar K4. Psy had just asked for the rock musician’s final words before announcing whether Jung made it to the top 12.

After joking around about going clubbing together, Psy declared that Jung had indeed advanced. Instead of rejoicing like most contestants would, however, Jung let out a sigh. Knowing that the show essentially had a lockdown policy for contestants, who aren’t allowed to go out drinking or partying, Jung told Psy, “We can’t go clubbing then.”

That line had Psy in stitches.


This is the clip of Psy announcing Jung Joon Young’s was advancing to the Top 12. Jung would place third in the music reality show.

Two years after being introduced to Korean television audiences, Jung has gone from being a relative unknown to a scream-inducing rockstar that also enjoys regular roles on popular South Korean TV variety shows. And, he still has that same mischievous humor. Evidence of that emerged at this past weekend’s KCON 2014 in Los Angeles, where Jung couldn’t help but joke around during a media roundtable, after a female interviewer asked him: “If you can change bodies with somebody for one day, who would it be and why?” Then, this exchange ensued:

Your body.

Why?

Because I want to live in a woman’s body for a day.

What would you do?

Touch my body for a day. Just kidding.

Though he is known for his humor, Jung is also recognized for his musical talent; he self-produced his second album, which he said was influenced by personal experiences. That actually made the process of creating the album “easier” and more fun, he said. Jung was able to share some of the music he created on Sunday, as he joined the star-studded list of K-pop performers that graced the KCON concert stage.

This marked the singer’s first time in Los Angeles, though he said the streets were actually quite familiar to him.


Jung Joon Young performs “Emergency Room” in Superstar K4.


Jung collaborates with Superstar K4 winner Roy Kim for “Becoming Dust.”

“My favorite game is GTA,” Jung explained, referencing the popular video game, Grand Theft Auto. “The latest GTA game is based on Los Angeles, so I feel very familiar with this city. When I’m looking around in downtown, these are places that appear in GTA. … I feel like I’m in a game, so yesterday on the streets, I was screaming.”


Check out Jung’s game room in We Got Married. Skip to 3:01.

Jung, who in addition to producing his own albums is also going to act in an upcoming film and also DJ a radio program in Korea, has come a long way from his brief stints with Korean bands like LEDApple and various indie groups.

He said he is thankful for the opportunities he is enjoying these days. Hours before the KCON concert, he told KoreAm that he was quite surprised to have fans in America. “Even though it’s so hot, I’m thankful for the fans that are waiting in line outside,” Jung said. ” Since this is a concert not just for me, but also for everyone, I hope that everyone has a good time.”

Jung’s music video of new title track “TEENAGER.”

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Devotion of K-pop Fans on Full Display at Day 1 of KCON 2014

by JAMES S. KIM

There is no question as to where Hallyu fans stand among the other fandoms of the world. The line that snaked its way around the entire Los Angeles Sports Arena complex yesterday, as KCON 2014 kicked off its first day of festivities under a blazing sun, was the ultimate image of devotion.

Even as a Korean American who’s followed K-pop for a while, I have to admit that seeing the throngs of excited fans in person was quite an eye-opening, even exhilarating, experience. In only four years, the convention devoted to K-pop, K-dramas and Korean popular culture in general has grown exponentially, from about 10,000 attendees at the inaugural convention in 2012 to an expected 40,000 this year, according to the North American arm of South Korea’s CJ E&M, which organizes the convention.

Soon KCON may just rival convention behemoths like San Diego Comic-Con and D23, which attract crowds in the 100,000-plus range.

And, if you think the only draw for KCON goers is the chance to see their favorite artists in person, think again. One may not expect panels like “Speaking the Language of K-Drama” or “Hallyu Culture Shock” to have a chance at a decent draw, but that’s underestimating the devotion and interest level of Hallyu fans.  Websites like Soompi and Dramabeans, as well as every social media outlet, are living testaments to how much fans love to gather and talk about their artists and actors online, and even better, when they have the chance to do so in person. The result was enthusiastic participation at panels like “Oppa/Unnie Debate,” “All About K-pop Reaction Videos” and the crowded K-pop dance workshops.

Of course, it’s another level of crazy that kicks in when the artists themselves show up in person. We had the chance to interview girl group SPICA on Saturday–stay tuned for our exclusive video later this week.

I also had the fortune to be standing in “fan club row” when we all heard a huge scream. And there’s nothing that can compare to a K-pop fan screaming. Lo and behold, boy group B1A4 was on the stage.

KCON also did a fantastic job in terms of fan engagement. Most K-pop stars are kept far away from fans, except for concerts and the occasional meet and greets. It was a different story for local artists and entertainers, including DANakaDAN, Jhameel, Connie Lin, Shin-B and Flash Finger, to name a few, who held conversations and Q&As with their fans at their respective panels.

As Day 2 of KCON kicks off today, look forward to our live tweets (@KoreAm) and our upcoming exclusive interviews with SPICA and the crooning Jung Joon Young, who will both be performing tonight in the second concert/ They are part of a lineup that also includes BTS, CNBLUE and Girl’s Generation.

More pictures, courtesy of KCON 2014:

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K-pop

August Book Giveaway: Win A Visual Guide to the K-pop Revolution!

Attention, book lovers! KoreAm is partnering with Tuttle Publishing to bring you some exciting new titles by internationally recognized authors and thought leaders in Korean language, culture, art, history and business. Did we mention these books are being offered to you for free? We will be giving away books every month from now until the end of 2014.

We’re going to start the giveaway with Mark James Russell’s K-Pop Now!: The Korean Music Revolution, a visual compendium of all the stars in the K-pop universe. Choe Sang-Hun, the New York Times Korea correspondent, said this about the book: “With K-pop being the most talked-about product coming out of Korea today, Koreans and non-Koreans alike ask: So what is K-pop? Between the covers of this book, you will find the closest thing you can get to an answer. This is a comprehensive and timely guidebook on K-pop by someone who can describe and explain it better than any other person I know, by a Western expert who has been following K-pop more closely and with more passion than Koreans.”

Russell, who has lived in Korea since 1996, has covered Korean pop culture for the New York Times, Billboard and Newsweek.

Three copies of this book are up for grabs. All you have to do is tweet at us (@KoreAm) with photo proof of why you’re one of the biggest K-pop fans in the world—or want to be. Show us a poster of a favorite boy or girl group, snap a shot of your album collection, or be creative and surprise us!

Whatever it is, tweet it at us with the hashtag #KpopRevolution, or comment on the article below with your photo (click the small icon to upload images). You can also reply to the Facebook post on the KoreAm page and attach a photo along with your comment.

Winners will be selected on Wednesday, Aug. 6, by the K-pop-savvy members of the KoreAm staff. Those chosen will be notified via Twitter and on Facebook.

sewol_art_poster

SKorean Artists Try to Carry Out the Dreams of the Young Sewol Victims Posthumously

by HAEIN JUNG

Of the 325 high school students aboard the Sewol ferry that sank off the Korean coast in April, only 75 survived. With the deaths of these 250 teenagers, their hopes and aspirations died with them. However, in a touching tribute, various South Korean artists are trying to carry out these youths’ artistic dreams posthumously, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

In honor of Sewol victim Park Ye-seul, who aspired to become a fashion designer, for example, Seoul’s Seochon Gallery is featuring 40 of the late student’s designs in an exhibition that opened July 4. Titled “Park Ye-seul Exhibition, Danwon High School, 2nd Grade 3rd Class 17th Student,” the display has already been visited by over 5,000 people. The artwork ranges from Park’s childhood crayon doodles to some more recent, developed sketches of shoe designs.

“I hope visitors can take a moment to think about Ye-seul’s dreams and remember the tragedy, and also take the opportunity to reflect on the surviving children and their dreams,” Jang Young-seung, head of Seoul’s Seochon Gallery, told the Hollywood Reporter.

Fashion designer Lee Gyeom-bi is also helping to bring Park’s dreams to fruition by creating two pairs of high heels based on the student’s designs, the article said.

Park's Shoe drawing

Park Ye-seul’s shoe design sketch. (via Korea Times)

Meanwhile, K-pop songwriter Yoon Ilsang, who had previously composed a song titled “Budi” (“Please”) to honor the victims, is working on creating a digital album of  the songs written by deceased student Kim Se-yeon, a budding film score composer and head of her school’s theater group. Yoon is hoping to release the album in August, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Other artists, including singer Shin Yong-jae and the band Sinawai’s Shin Dae-chul, are also working on similar projects with music composed by some of the deceased students, including an unfinished love song by teens Lee Da-un and Nam Hyeon-cheol.

The Seochon Gallery will exhibit Park Ye-seul’s artwork indefinitely, and the Korea JoongAng Daily reports that the gallery would like to add more works of art from other victims, so the people who perished in the Sewol tragedy—and their dreams—are not soon forgotten. “Although those children have not come back, it is our duty to make them live in our hearts,” said gallery head Jang Young-seung, as quoted by the Korea Times

Image at top: A poster of the art of fallen Sewol victim Park Ye-seul, an aspiring designer.

 

 

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G-Dragon, SPICA Join All-Star KCON 2014 Lineup

by JAMES S. KIM

Big Bang’s G-Dragon and girl group SPICA are the latest names to join the lineup for this year’s KCON, the largest Hallyu fan convention in America, happening on August 9 and 10 at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Billboard.com reported that the singer/rapper will headline the first of the two concerts at the festival, which also features fan meet-and-greets and panels.

G-Dragon, who performed with Missy Elliott at last year’s event, will join SPICA (U.S. debut), Girls’ Generation, IU, CNBLUE, Teen Top, B1A4, BTS, VIXX and Jung Joon-young on the stage. South Korean TV and movie stars Lee Seung-gi, Lee Seo-ji and Yoo In-na are also set to appear at the festival.

KCON-flyer

KCON expanded to a two-night festival last year, and this year’s event will feature two concerts as well. South Korean music chart program M Countdown will also be filming the performances, which might mean longer sets from the performers.

Tickets go on sale today, and more ticketing options will be available later. You can purchase them at KCONUSA.com.

Top photo: G-Dragon performed with Missy Elliott at last year’s KCON.

SISTAR

KoreAm’s Ultimate K-pop Summer Playlist

by JAMES S. KIM and STEVE HAN

Tomorrow marks the beginning of summer, and to celebrate, we’ve put together a jam-packed playlist of the best summer-themed K-pop songs ever.

The first wave of hits is a mix of old and new, celebrating a few of our favorite things: the ocean, sand and sunblock.

Whether or not you live near the beach, these songs will take you there.

Cool – “Woman of Beach”’

“It’s summertime!” We jump right in with a blast to the past from Cool.

SISTAR – “Loving U”

SISTAR in Hawaii? Yes, please.

Big Bang – “Sunset Glow”

Beach party with Big Bang? Of course!

Jinusean – “How Deep Is Your Love”

How deep is my love? As deep as the big, blue sea … and as cheesy as late ’90s fashion.

Fly to the Sky – “Sea of Love”

Anyone ready to bust out the karaoke machine yet?

Dynamic Duo – “Summer Time”

The latest single off their new album, which released this past week!

DJ DOC – “Summer Story”

Another summer classic.

UP – “Sea”

UP was a short-lived group, but they did churn out some great tunes, including this one.

Clon – “꿍따리샤바라” (Kung Ddari Sha Bah Rah)

Are you somehow feeling down? Then turn this song up! There’s no proper translation for this song’s title, but the closest might be “hakuna matata.”

IU feat. Clon - “꿍따리샤바라” (Kung Ddari Sha Bah Rah)

IU brings a much more mellow feel to her remake, which also features the original artists.

Jessica (Girls Generation) & Park Myung-soo – “Cold Noodles”

We know how the Spurs won the NBA championship this year. Korean naengmyun is the perfect dish to beat the heat!

MC Mong – “Ice Cream”

Ice cream is a no-brainer. But love can be like ice cream, too. We won’t delve any further.

Yoon Jong-shin – “Pat Bing Soo” (Red Bean Shaved Ice)

The original song about our favorite summer dessert item.

Akdong Musician – “Red Bean Shaved Ice”

These two can sing about cutting down a tree and we’d still listen.

IU & FIESTAR – “Sea of Moonlight”

What if IU were part of a girl group? This is what it may look like, but it’s a short-lived vision as the other girls leave her behind on an island. Seriously, this is what happens in the video. Apparently, they didn’t want to take her on.

Busker Busker – “Yeosu Night Sea”

If you’re walking along a beach a night, perhaps with someone you care about, this is the song for you. Let lead vocalist Jang Beom-jun’s soothing voice wash over you like the crashing waves.

1TYM – “Hot”

Of course, if cooling off isn’t your thing and you always keep it hot, 1TYM understands. (Bonus: Can you spot the future Big Bang members?)

UPDATE: We don’t know how we overlooked these.

Deux – “In The Summer”

Shinhwa – “Eusha Eusha”

Uhm Jung-hwa – “Festival”

What other gems are we still missing?

(Above photo: The Kim Sisters (left to right: Mia, Sue and Aija) pose for a photo shoot at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, 1961.)

Before K-pop Hit U.S. Shores, The Kim Sisters Were An American Musical Sensation

A visit with a member of the Kim Sisters, the singing trio who rose to fame in the U.S. long before K-pop hit these shores, leaves an indelible impression.

(Above photo: The Kim Sisters (left to right: Mia, Sue and Aija) pose for a photo shoot at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, 1961.)

by BENJAMIN M. HAN

November 2009. Las Vegas, Nevada. I claim my baggage and wait eagerly outside the airport for Sue Kim to pick me up. I’ve never met this member of the Kim Sisters, the singing trio from South Korea who earned notoriety in America in the 1950s and ’60s; the only image I have of her is from the YouTube videos I’d watched over the years. As I look at my watch, I grow anxious and wonder, “How will I recognize her?” Then, I notice a silver Mercedes SUV slowly drive by, with a license plate that reads: SOOK-JA, Sue’s Korean name. Phew. One problem solved. We make eye contact, and she seemingly knows to pull over for me. I get in the car quickly. Seated next to her is her husband, John Bonifazio. We stop at a cozy Korean restaurant, and as I browse the menu, I wonder if Sue still speaks Korean fluently. As soon as she orders bibimbap in perfect Korean, I have my answer.

Over the next two days, I would visit Sue’ s home and conduct extensive interviews with her. As a scholar working on my doctoral dissertation, I was seeking to unearth the history of Korean Americans in early American television. The Kim Sisters were pioneers in this regard, appearing on such popular TV variety shows hosted by the likes of American legends Ed Sullivan and Dean Martin—long before “Gangnam Style” made its way to these shores.

But my time in Las Vegas talking with Sue would turn out to be more than just a research trip; it would be a revelation for me.

As a Korean American myself who grew up in four different countries—the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Indonesia and the United States—I always struggled with identity. When someone would ask me, “Where are you from?” I would hesitate to answer. While I can speak English, Korean and Spanish fluently, I am not a native speaker in any of these languages. In the three days I would spend with Sue, I would feel a deep bond with her. Despite us seemingly having very little in common, and being decades and generations apart, she would become the role model that I had been searching for since I left South Korea at the age of 7. As someone who challenged the racial status when it came to representations on American television at that time, she would become a source of inspiration for me, someone who tries to challenge the black-white paradigm in academia.

I first heard about the Kim Sisters while a graduate student at the University of Southern California studying media. I was already familiar with Asian American actors like Sessue Hayakawa and Philip Ahn. But then, someone mentioned the Kim Sisters to me one day. I asked my parents about the group, and my dad explained that they were really popular in Korea back in the day.

F-Kim-0614-MOTHERThe Kim Sisters with their mother, Lee Nan-young, at the Palmer House in Chicago in 1963.

Later, as a doctoral student at NYU, I started seriously researching the Kim Sisters and managed to find a Las Vegas mailing address for Sue on the Internet. At that time, I had no clue whether she was still residing there, but I drafted a formal letter and mailed it. A few weeks later, I received an unexpected phone call from Sue, and I still remember vividly the first question she asked me: “Why are you interested in my story?” After I gave her a detailed response, she then asked my age. “Twenty-eight years old,” I answered. She was surprised that I was so young. I kindly asked her if I could fly to Vegas to interview her, and she eventually agreed.

Later at an event at the Korea Society in 2010, Sue shared with the audience how she was hesitant to reach out to me when she first received my letter, but it was her husband who convinced her to respond. She ultimately agreed to the interview, she says, because I had told her, “I want to tell your story.”

Sue was one of seven siblings born in Korea to a very musical couple. Their mother, Lee Nan-young, rose to stardom prior to the Korean War with her sentimental ballad “Mokpo Tears.” Their father, Kim Hai-song, was a well-respected composer and orchestra conductor who produced a number of popular musical shows. Thanks to this parentage, the Kim children naturally would become quite musical themselves—but it was also, in part, out of necessity.

After the Korean War broke out in 1950, Kim Hai-song was captured and murdered by the North Korean army, and Lee had to find a way to take care of her family. So she sang for American troops as a way to earn money. Soon, her children would learn how to sing American tunes like “Candy and Cake.” Eldest daughters Young-ja (Jane), and Sook-Ja (Sue) would eventually join their mother performing in the nightclubs of Busan. But being an entertainer was not the life Jane wanted. That’s when their youngest sister Ai-ja and their cousin Min-ja (Mia) Kim joined Sue, and together they formed the Kim Sisters in 1954.

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The Kim Sisters performing with their brothers (the Kim Brothers) at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas in 1970.

Despite the negative perception of Asians as the Yellow Peril—an image often perpetuated by Hollywood movies with conniving “Orientals” as the antagonists—the Kim girls established a rapport with the Americans GIs stationed in Korea, and the latter, in turn, taught Sue, then 13, 12-year-old Ai-ja and 11-year-old Min-ja pop stan- dards and, later, rock ‘n’ roll.

“The GIs would go crazy when we sang rock ‘n’ roll songs, even though we didn’t pronounce the lyrics correctly for ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘St. Louis Blues,” remembered Sue, now 73. “They were pounding their feet and say- ing, ‘More, more!’ … They would give us cases of whiskey and beer, and we would exchange them for rice.

“Without the GIs, we didn’t perform. I don’t know where we will be today. That’s how I feel, how grateful I am. Without them, we couldn’t have survived.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, there was a flourishing Chinese nightclub scene with the establishment of the Forbidden City and the Chinese Sky Room in San Francisco. A club owner by the name of Tom Ball was the force behind the production of “Oriental” shows, such as the “China Doll Revue” and the “Geisha Revue,” which were performed regularly at the Thunderbird Hotel and Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, respectively. Ball told his friend Dan Sawyer, an owner of an entertainment production company in Japan, that he was searching for another Asian act to headline one of his shows. GIs in South Korea who had seen the Kim Sisters’ act told Sawyer to check out the talented trio. One soldier, Bob McMackin, who was also Sawyer’s friend, arranged an audition for the Kim Sisters in front of Ball in Yongsan, South Korea, in 1958.

“[Ball] liked the fact [we] could sing a lot better than the Happy Tokyo Coats,” recalled Sue, referring to the Japanese performers in one of Ball’s shows.

After the Kim Sisters’ successful tryout, McMackin became their personal manager. “We respect McMackin a lot,” Sue said. “He used to take us to all these clubs and give us fried chicken.”

F-Kim-0614-STAGE2The Kim Sisters playing the banjo in a concert in Hawaii in 1963.

F-Kim-0614-STAGE3The Kim Sisters performing at the Latin Quarter in New York in 1963.

F-Kim-0614-STAGE4The Kim Sisters playing the marimba at the Palmer House in Chicago in 1965.

F-Kim-0614-STAGE5The Kim Sisters playing the violin at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas in 1965.

When the young ladies, who had never before been anywhere outside of Korea, arrived in Los Angeles in 1959, the experience was a bit anti-climatic at first. “Someone told us when you go to L.A., you open the hotel room window, you look out, and there is a movie star walking around,” said Sue. “All day we waited, and nobody showed up. [So] our agent Tom Ball put us in his 1959 Cadillac and drove us to Las Vegas.”

While there, the Thunderbird Hotel signed the Kim Sisters for a four-week engagement with a four-week option as part of the “China Doll Revue.” After a successful eight-week run, the group was signed to perform at the Stardust Lounge, where the Sisters would remain entertainers for eight consecutive months.

It was at the Stardust where they captured the attention of legendary TV host Ed Sullivan. In 1959, he was in town to broadcast The Ed Sullivan Show live from Vegas, and after a successful audition, the Kim Sisters made their debut on the variety program on Sept. 20, 1959, performing a cover of the hit song “Sincerely.” They would go on to make 22 appearances on the country’s most watched program, known for bringing American families together every Sunday night. While the trio was able to sing renditions of American popular songs in perfect English, Sue said they had just memorized the lyrics phonetically. She said their struggle to master the English language hindered them somewhat because they could not interact easily with other guests on American shows when they made appearances.

Meanwhile, many newspapers at the time highlighted their assimilation into American society, yet the Kim Sisters always thought of themselves as proud Koreans, said Sue. She described the time when they wore traditional Korean clothing out on the streets, expecting Americans to recognize the hanboks as Korean. “Everybody says, ‘what a beautiful kimono.’ We get so angry—‘this is not a kimono!’” said Sue. “‘This is a Korean outfit!’ I told Ai-ja and Mia: ‘We have to become successful. That’s the only way they are gonna know we are from Korea.’

“As young as we were, we had strong patriotism in our heart,” added Sue. “If anybody said we are from China, we used to get angry. They couldn’ t tell the difference between Japan, China and Korea.”

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The Kim Sisters with Dean Martin on the set of his show in 1967.

While different Asian ethnicities were not distinguishable on American television, what was anomalous about the Kim Sisters’ appearances was the fact that Sullivan often introduced them as performers from Korea. As Sue explained, “Absolutely, we are from the Republic of Korea. They couldn’ t tell South or North. So our manager told Ed Sullivan, ‘It’s gotta be the Republic of Korea.’ ”

My days spent with Sue were filled with unforgettable anecdotes. She recounted giddily the time a container filled with kimchi sent from their family in Korea exploded in the lobby of a New York hotel where they were staying. Then, there was the time the king of rock ‘n’ roll himself, Elvis Presley, came to the Stardust and told the Kim Sisters’ drummer that he would like to take them out. The sisters’ response: “We are not dating.”

The Kim Sisters perform on the variety show Hollywood Palace:

As Sue drove me around Las Vegas, each hotel on the Strip that we passed seemed to conjure vivid memories from her past. She played the Kim Sisters’ songs on the car stereo as she shared her thoughts about each recording. As I observed her face, she looked like a grandmother finding renewed vigor and enthusiasm in telling bedtime stories to her grandchild.

But I had a burning question, one I was initially hesitant to ask: Why would the Sisters often wear the traditional Chinese costume, cheongsam, if they were so self-conscious about their identity as Koreans? I couldn’t leave Las Vegas without getting an answer, and the opportunity came while discussing how Asians have been victims of Orientalism in America. “The act we were doing, there is no way we are going to move around the stage with a Korean costume. It is too much material,” Sue answered matter-of-factly. Also, their agent, Ball, wanted the performers to showcase their beautiful straight legs, she said. Sue, however, did note that the Sisters would also open their act wearing hanboks and singing “Arirang,” the beloved Korean folk song.

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The Kim Sisters with Frank Sinatra at the Harrah’s Club (Lake Tahoe) in 1976.

As for responding to critics who could read the Kim Sisters perfor ances as self-Orientalism, Sue said that the Kim Sisters knew what the industry wanted, and therefore that meant they had to sometimes perform songs like “China Nights” (or “Shina No Yoru,” a Japanese song), the most requested song by GIs in the U.S. Army clubs. But the Sisters also often switched into different costumes—including Western dresses, heels and sometimes top hats— and played a variety of musical instruments (clarinet, xylophone, drums, trumpet, etc.) and genres of music within the same act. As the women took command of the stage, showing off their considerable talent as entertainers, period, this was arguably an illustration of how they were subverting stereotypical representations of Asians in America. Who could forget their 1963 Ed Sullivan performance, in which they sang a song in English paying homage to their mother, singing lyrics like, “Mother taught us all we know in Korea”? In the same performance, their mother joined the Kim Sisters on stage and sang her lyrics in Korean. Again, this happened in the 1960s, on the most popular American TV show at the time.

Throughout the ’60s, the Kim Sisters would enjoy tremendous visibility and success, also appearing on the shows of entertainers Dinah Shore and Dean Martin. Ai-ja was even offered a role in the all-Asian cast for the musical Flower Drum Song. However, she turned down the offer because she thought her English was not fluent enough to play the role.

In 1970, the Kim Sisters returned to Korea for the first time since they left in 1959. They had been cultural ambassadors on behalf of Korea to the United States for years, but upon their arrival, they did not receive a warm welcome. An interpreter was waiting for them at the airport because the Korean government thought they had not only lost touch with their native country, but also lost the language. When the Kim Sisters showed they could speak Korean just fine and had their cultural pride still intact, Koreans embraced them. Their concert at Sejong Center sold out quickly. During their short stay in Korea, they recorded a song titled “Kimchi Kkakdugi,” (Cubed Radish Kimchi) that described their experience as diasporic Koreans:

Our home is far away Memories of yesterday
Now we found the other way We are in the U.S.A.
We will rock some songs today We must eat the American way

Just like there is an ending to every great film or novel, there is an ending to the extraordinary story of the Kim Sisters. As each member found her life partner and started her own family, the siblings’ career as entertainers slowly came to an end. Ai-ja passed away in 1987 due to lung cancer; Mia went to Hungary to relaunch her music career; and Sue settled in Las Vegas with John, her husband of 45 years, giving birth to a son and daughter and now with five grandchildren. Sue continued to perform with her brothers, the Kim Brothers, in different venues throughout the United States and Korea until 1994.

F-Kim-0614-suekim2Sue Kim, in a photo taken this past April.

March 2014. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Four years after my visit, I receive a phone call from Sue. She can’t hide her excitement as she shares the news that she will become the first Korean to be inducted into the Nevada Entertainer/ Artist Hall of Fame on March 27.

After the Hall of Fame event, I speak again with Sue. The Korean American Women’s Association attended the event to honor her, she says, but not a single Korean newspaper showed up to cover the story. Even former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung once promised that the country would host a celebration to commemorate the trio’s contribution to South Korean cultural diplomacy, but that promise was never fulfilled.

I hope articles like this one help make people more aware of the Kim Sisters’ incredible journey as some of the earliest Korean entertainers to be embraced by mainstream American audiences. I hope their story inspires younger generations, as it has me.

Sue tells me that, as a young child in Korea, she used to look at the stars in the sky, pray and hope that she would go to America someday. Her childhood dreams have been more than fulfilled. “Dream big, never give up,” said Sue. “Work at it, and your dream will come true.”

This article was published in the June 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).