Pat Suzuki


Name Pat Suzuki
Born September 22 1930
Birth Location Cressey, California
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Nisei singer and star of Flower Drum Song on Broadway.

Born as Chiyoko Suzuku in the Central California farming town of Cressey in 1930, she was the youngest of four children of Chiyosaku and Aki Suzuki, and grew up on the family farm. With her family, she was incarcerated as a child at the Merced Assembly Center and the Amache, Colorado, concentration camp during World War II. After leaving Amache to work on a Colorado sugar beet farm, the family moved back to California after the war. After high school, Suzuki attended San Francisco City College and San Jose State, while also singing a small nightclub on weekends. She headed east, intending to go to Europe, but ended up broke in New York in 1954. She subsequently landed a job in the road company of the play Teahouse of the August Moon.[1]

When on tour with the show in Seattle, she went to a nightclub named The Colony and sang with the band. Club owner and local jazz impresario Norm Bobrow hired her a regular at the club, where she made her debut in July 1955. Bobrow became her manager, and the two also become a couple. It was here that she was "discovered" by Bing Crosby, who helped her secure a record contract with RCA Records, with her first album released on its Vik subsidiary in 1958. Three more albums would follow; her third, Broadway '59 was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1960. She also began making appearances on various television shows.[2]

In the meantime, the legendary team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II were developing a play for the Broadway stage set in San Francisco's Chinatown and looking for Asian American performers for the cast. Rodgers spotted Suzuki on one of her TV appearances and she ended up cast as one of the leads in Flower Drum Song, the American born nightclub performer Linda Low. The show opened on Broadway on December 1, 1958 and ran for over 600 performances. Suzuki and co-star Miyoshi Umeki landed on the cover of TIME magazine's December 22, 1958 issue. After the show's run ended in 1960, a movie version followed, but the role of Linda Low went to Nancy Kwan.

In 1960, she married photographer David Shaw, who was well-known for his work for fashion magazines and for LIFE. Assigned to photograph Jacqueline Kennedy for LIFE in 1959, he became the family's semi-official photographer, and he and Suzuki became friends with the Kennedys. She sang at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. After the birth of a son, Suzuki cut back on her performances before later announcing her retirement from show business.[3]

The couple divorced in 1965, and she returned to performing, making her living with nightclub appearances and acting in stage productions, along with occasional television appearances. In 1974, she played one of the leading roles in the pioneering Asian American play The Year of Dragon in both the New York production and the subsequent PBS television production. She was also a regular in the short-lived 1976 ABC TV series Mr. T. and Tina starring Pat Morita, one of the first network show featuring a predominantly Asian American cast. In addition to various TV roles, she continued to perform in nightclubs and did benefit shows for Asian American organizations.[4] She was honored by the Japanese American National Museum in 2001 and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in 2005 and appeared in Manzanar: An American Story in 2005. A compilation CD titled The Very Best of Pat Suzuki: The RCA and Vik Recordings was issued by Taragon Records in 1999.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Cross, Lucy E. "Pat Suzuki." Masterworks Broadway website.

"The Girls on Grant Avenue." TIME Magazine, Dec. 22, 1958, p. 42+.

Lee, Joann Faung Jean. Asian American Actors: Oral Histories from Stage, Screen, and Television. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2000.

Wakiji, George M. "Pat Suzuki: Chanteuse Extraordinaire." Rafu Shimpo, Dec. 20, 1957, 19.

Footnotes

  1. George M. Wakiji, "Pat Suzuki: Chanteuse Extraordinaire." Rafu Shimpo, Dec. 20, 1957, 19; Lucy E. Cross, "Pat Suzuki." Masterworks Broadway website, accessed on June 6, 2014 at http://www.masterworksbroadway.com/artist/pat-suzuki.
  2. Wakiji, "Pat Suzuki: Chanteuse Extraordinaire,"; Cross, "Pat Suzuki"; "The Girls on Grant Avenue," TIME, Dec. 22, 1958, 42; Pacific Citizen, June 10, 1961, 3; Paul de Barros, "Obituary: Norm Bobrow, Seattle Jazz Champion," Seattle Times, Apr. 17, 2008, accessed at http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/obituaries/obituary-norm-bobrow-seattle-jazz-champion/ on Nov. 1, 2016.
  3. "Biography of Photographer Mark Shaw," Mark Shaw Photographic Archive, http://markshawphoto.com/biography-of-photographer-mark-shaw/; "Never-Before-Seen Kennedy Family Photos Released," CBS News, Sept. 19, 2012, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/never-before-seen-kennedy-family-photos-released/; Bob Thomas, "Pat Suzuki Resumes Career After Her Nursery Stint," Ocala Star-Banner, Oct. 6, 1963, p. 30, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1356&dat=19631006&id=1PYjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CQUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4929,920973, all accessed on March 6, 2014. Larry Tajiri, "Vagaries: Latest from Broadway," Pacific Citizen, Jan. 20, 1961, 3.
  4. See for instance, Karen Chinn, "Pat Suzuki: Coming Home," International Examiner, Oct. 1979, p. 3.