Iijima and Miyamoto: We Are the Children (Yellow Pearl, 1970, 7″)
I could have sworn I wrote about this at some point but I guess not. The song above might constitute the very first Asian American recording. I’m premising that on the argument that “Asian American” – as a pan-ethnic label – didn’t exist in any real form prior to the Asian American Movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Before then, the identity terminology would have been around specific ethnic groups: Chinese American, Japanese American, etc. But the Movement produced a politically-inspired, strategic umbrella label of “Asian American” and by that virtue, it’s hard to think of any earlier recording than this one that both figuratively and literally advances an Asian American ideal (just listen to the lyrics).
Chris Iijima, Nobuko Miyamoto and William Chin were the three members of A Grain of Sand, widely recognized as being the first Asian American band (again, see my point above) and they recorded an eponymous album for the Paredon label in 1973 (widely recognized as the first Asian American album). However, prior the trio forming, Iijima and Miyamoto had already been working together as a folk duo, based primarily in NYC, and that’s where they crossed paths with R&B producer Will Crittendon. I can’t quite pin down if Crittendon was from Minneapolis or Chicago since he worked out of both cities in the ’60s but in any case, he offered to cut a record for the Iijima and Miyamoto (Chin hadn’t joined up with them yet) and that lead to “We Are the Children.”
I met with Nobuko the other week and she noted that while “We Are the Children” was her and Iijima’s composition, Crittendon made the arrangement over with more of a R&B feel (though it’s still very folksy) and he also brought in a bass player and drummer to add more to the rhythm section. Here’s A Grain of Sand’s version of “We Are the Children,” just as a point of comparison. They’re certainly not night-and-day different but the 7″ version is notably more uptempo. Anyways, for an Asian American music history junkie like me, finally getting a copy of this (from Nobuko herself!) was an absolute treat.
More on A Grain of Sand and their recording history.
365 Days of Soul, #128