I went to an eclectic little party yesterday evening for a new production company that is dedicated to putting together a film and a musical about the Kim Sisters.
The Kim Sisters were Sook-ja, Mi-a and Ai-ja Kim, a trio that began singing of US troops in 1954. They were the three of the seven children of Kim Hae-song, a classical music conductor who was captured and killed by the North Koreans during the Korean War, and Lee Nan-Young, one of Korea's most famous singers before the War, perhaps best known for THE TEARS OF MOKPO.
Lee had been singing for the foreign troops, to earn enough money for them to survive, when one day she got the idea of having three of her daughters sing, too. The girls did not know English, so they learned the songs phonetically. Just 13, 12 and 11 years old at the time, the first song they sang was the Hoagy Carmichael tune OLE BUTTERMILK SKY.
The show went well and soon the sisters were singing regularly, all the popular music and early rock'n'roll of the day. Soldiers would give them chocolate bars, which in turn they would trade in for real food on the black market, but it was enough to get by. In 1958 they were discovered by an American agent who booked them into the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas, as part of a show called the China Doll Review. The three of them earned $400 a month. After a month at the Thunderbird, they were picked up by another Vegas hotel, the Stardust, where they played for eight months.
In 1959 they got their big break when they were asked to play on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan was, of course, huge back then, and being on his show made the Kim Sisters a nationally known act. Over the next 14 years, they would perform on Sullivan 22 times, the most of any performer (at least according to what I have read). They were on all the big TV shows of the day, they were featured in LIFE and NEWSWEEK and other magazines. Far from singing for chocolate, the Kim Sisters eventually were making around $13,000 a week.
They kept performing in Vegas and elsewhere for years, although after they got married in the 1970s, the act pretty much came to an end. Ai-ja died in 1987 of lung cancer, but they other two sisters are still alive and living in the United States still.
It certainly looks like a pretty interesting story. Given how popular musicals are in Korea these days, I am guessing they could have the most luck with that genre. But who knows?
They definitely have some interesting people helping them out. At the opening party was a broad mix of producers, actors, artists, writers, and assorted bigwigs. I'll restrain myself from dropping names, but it was quite a cool event.
Btw, I am not skipping the production company's name to be coy or because I am forgetful. They had a name chosen, but they found a problem with it, so now they are looking for a new name.
Btw 2, that first link about the Kim Sisters in turn linked to a long and rather interesting interview with Kim Sook-ja, aka Sue Kim Bonafazio, as part of some oral history project at UNLV.
Btw 3, I also found this link interesting.