August 10, 1957 – April 12, 2014
Baritone saxophonist, composer, writer, political activist, and leader of both The Afro Asian Music Ensemble and The Journey Beyond The West Orchestra, Fred Ho is one of today’s leading Asian American artistic talents. As a composer and performer, Ho works at the edge of forms, masterfully combining folk music elements from Asia and the Pacific Islands within a 20th-century African American context deeply influenced by Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Cal Massey. The result is an elaborate, yet fiercely swinging and soulful music, visionary in its embrace of a 21st-century American multiculturalism, which “is neither easily pigeonholed nor easily ignored.” (The Washington Post). “This is a music which is at once highly social, political and above all swings with great feeling,” The Chicago Observer comments. “It is a statement that music can address our social ills and still be uplifting.”Ho wrote the first contemporary Chinese American opera, A Chinaman’s Chance, which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This work, based on a bilingual libretto (Chinese and English), signaled his ground-breaking combination of traditional Chinese and Western instruments. His music theater work, A Song for Manong: Part III of Bamboo That Snaps Back, was premiered by Life on the Water at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater. A tribute to the struggles of Filipino immigrant laborers in the United States, it combines indigenous kulintang music and dance with contemporary African American music. His multimedia bilingual (English and Spanish) oratorio, Turn Pain into Power, written in collaboration with Alma Villegas and Esther Iverem, was acclaimed by The Washington Post as “charged with such anger, longing, affirmation and beauty that it almost defied the listener to turn away…” The Journey Beyond the West: The New Adventures of Monkey!, a musical theater adventure based on the popular Chinese trickster Monkey, was given a concert performance by The Monkey Orchestra at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York City in February 1995. A concert reading of excerpts from Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors — an Afro Asian fantasy action opera with a libretto by Ann T. Greene — was given at City College’s Aaron Davis Hall in New York City in May 1996. Fred Ho has just received a commission from the World Music Institute and The Mary Cary Flagler Trust to compose a new work entitled Once Upon A Time in Chinese America…
The Afro Asian Music Ensemble, a group Ho founded in 1982, was first featured in Tomorrow Is Now!, a Soul Note release voted Best Large Ensemble Album of 1986 by The Chicago Observer. “Although just a sextet, the ensemble often sounds twice that size,” writes The Washington Post, “as it combined passages of brash, daring, visceral jazz with a multi-cultural tapestry of melodies, textures and rhythms.” The group’s second album, We Refuse to be Used and Abused, became one of Coda Magazine’s Favorite Albums in 1986, and both albums, Tomorrow Is Now! and We Refuse To Be Used And Abused, were voted Village Voice Critics Choice of the Decade. Most recently, Soul Note released The Underground Railroad To My Heart which was voted one of the best albums of 1994 by The Village Voice and praised by Down Beat Magazine as “a pioneering fusion of freejazz and traditional Chinese music that manages to combine truculence and delicacy with such natural ease that it sounds positively organic.” Ho’s instrumental composition Contradiction Please! The Revenge of Charlie Chan can also be heard on the Relache Ensemble’s new recording, Outcome Inevitable, released by O.O. Discs.
Fred Ho has received several prestigious awards, including two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (Opera-Musical Theater in 1994 and Music Composition in 1993), a 1994 and 1989 New York Foundation for the Arts Music Composition Fellowship, and a 1988 Distinguished Artist Lifetime Achievement Award given by the 17th Annual Black Musicians conference at the University of Massachusetts. He is also the recipient of a 1987 Peter Ivers Visiting Artist Fellowship at Harvard University and several ASCAP and Meet the Composer grants.
A longtime activist in the Asian American community, Ho helped to found the East Coast Asian Student Union, the Asian American Resource Workshop, AsianImprov Records, the Asian American Arts Alliance, and many other organizations as well as cultural and political projects. He lectures extensively in universities and colleges across the country and has published many articles and essays on music and social change, revolutionary political and cultural theory, Asian American history, politics and culture. Ho has co-edited a book on politics and music, Sounding Off! Music as Subversion/Resistance/Revolution (Automedia), which was just selected by the Before Columbus Foundation as the 1996 winner of the 17th annual American Book Awards.