August 28, 1934|
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
|Died||March 7, 1984
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
|Genres||Jazz, traditional pop, haole|
|Associated acts||Marty Paich, Paul Conrad, Jimmy Borges, Johnny Todd, Arthur Lyman|
Ethel Azama (August 28, 1934 – March 7, 1984) was an American jazz and popular singer and recording artist. She sang regularly in nightclubs and other concert venues between the mid-1950s and 1984. She was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and was of Okinawan ancestry. She was a Nisei or second-generation Japanese American.
She started her professional career in 1955 as an emcee at the Oasis nightclub in Honolulu. The club served as a venue for musical revues from Japan. In 1956, she began working as a standards singer in U.S. military clubs on Oahu such as The Cannon Club on Diamond Head. Pianist Paul Conrad usually served as her accompanist for her gigs. Conrad also wrote many of her arrangements. By 1957 she was singing at Waikiki Beach nightclubs as the opening act for headliners such as popular singer Herb Jeffries and blues singer and guitarist Josh White.  With the help of bandleader Martin Denny, Azama obtained a one-album deal with Liberty Records (1957–58). She released the album Exotic Dreams in 1958, which Paul Conrad arranged, on which she sang standards, including "Speak Low" and "Autumn Leaves". She sang a few hapa-haole numbers and a Japanese folk song on the album. She made had her singing debut on the American mainland in January 1959 when she appeared at Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, California.
Pop singer Jimmie Rodgers attended one of her shows and persuaded Liberty Records executives to allow her to record another LP. The 1959 album, Cool Heat, consists entirely of American standards. Ethel sings a mix of ballads such as "My Ship" (music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin) and "Like Someone in Love" (music by James Van Heusen and lyrics by Johnny Burke) and rhythmic tunes such as "Johnny One Note" (music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart).
From 1959–60, she sang in nightclubs in Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago. She also appeared in Las Vegas casinos on bills with jazz and standards singer Mel Tormé and with the jazz vocal group The Four Freshmen. In May 1960, she appeared on a national network variety special titled, Music on Ice. Azama sang several songs on the hour-long special which also featured French figure skater Jacqueline Du Bief, Japanese dancer Takeuchi Keigo, and singer-host Johnny Desmond.
She moved to Australia in the early 1960s and appeared regularly in nightclubs there and also on Australian television and radio. She married her Australian piano accompanist Johnny Todd in 1964. They performed together in several nightclubs in Hong Kong, including the Eagle's Nest at the Hong Kong Hilton Hotel.
During the late 1960s, Ethel and Johnny Todd settled permanently in Honolulu where Ethel gave birth to their two children. She resumed singing in Waikiki Beach nightclubs as a soloist and occasionally paired with local standards singer Jimmy Borges. She had minor acting roles on several episodes of the television series Hawaii Five-O in the mid-1970s.
- "Find a Grave: Ethel Azama". Retrieved 2013-04-16.
- Yoshida, George (1997), Reminiscing in Swingtime: Japanese Americans in American Popular Music: 1925-1960. San Francisco: National Japanese American Historical Society, Inc.; ISBN 1-881506-08-8.
- Scott, John L. Night Life Scene: Listeners Take Up Dancing Again, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1959, p. B3.
- Yoshida, p. 249
- Previews of Today's Network TV, Chicago Tribune, May 15, 1960, p. 33.
- Ethel Azama at the Internet Movie Database