Fred Ho

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Fred Ho in 2005

Fred Ho (Chinese: ; pinyin: Hóu Wéihàn; born Fred Wei-han Houn; August 10, 1957 – April 12, 2014) was an American jazz baritone saxophonist, composer, bandleader, playwright, writer and Marxist social activist. In 1988, he changed his surname to "Ho".[1]


He was born in Palo Alto, California,[2] and moved at the age of six with his family to Massachusetts.[3]

While he is sometimes associated with the Asian-American jazz or avant-garde jazz movements, Ho himself was opposed to the use of term "jazz" to describe traditional African-American music because the word "jazz" was used pejoratively by white Americans to denigrate the music of African Americans.[1] In his role as an activist, many of his works fuse the melodies of indigenous and traditional Asian and African musics, which as Ho would have said[citation needed] is the music of the majority of the world's people.[citation needed]

Ho also co-edited two books: Legacy to Liberation: Politics and Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America and Sounding Off! Music as Subversion/Resistance/Revolution. At the time of his death Ho had a third book in progress about African Americans and Asians working together in civil rights, which he was co-writing with Purdue University professor of African-American studies Bill Mullen. Ho's contributions to the Asian-American empowerment movement are varied and many. He is credited with co-founding several Asian-American civic groups such as the East Coast Asian Students Union (while a student at Harvard), the Asian American Arts Alliance in New York City, the Asian American Resource Center in Boston and the Asian Improv record label.[citation needed]

Of Chinese descent, Ho specialized in the combining sometimes asynchronous tunes and melodies of various musical traditions, creating what many have described as both brilliant and chaotic sounds. He was the first to combine Chinese opera with traditional African-American music. He led the Afro Asian Music Ensemble (founded in 1982) and the Monkey Orchestra (founded in 1980). He lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York.

Ho held a B.A. degree in sociology from Harvard University (1979). He recorded for the Koch Jazz and Soul Note labels. Some of his final works include Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon, which premiered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in June 2006, and Voice of the Dragon I, II, and III. As Ho was a prolific composer, writer, playwright, his list of works grew continually. Some of his first CDs include Monkey 1, Monkey II, The Underground Railroad to My Heart (Soul Note), We Refuse To Be Used And Abused, and Tomorrow is Now![citation needed]

In his 2000 book, Legacy to Liberation,[4] Ho, recapitulating an aesthetic vision first presented in 1985, wrote:

"Revolutionary art must ... inspire a spirit of defiance, or class and national pride to resist domination and backward ideology. Revolutionary art must energize and humanize; not pacify, confuse and desensitize...

"I am adamantly against one-dimensional, so called "correct" proscriptive forms that petty bourgeois critics try to label as "political art." I'm also not in favor of the errors of socialist-realist art with its glorified "socialist heroes", but favor imaginative critical realism, a sensuous rendering of the colorful material world. Art can fill us with love, with hope and with revolutionary vision.

"Ultimately society must be transformed through the organization of people for socialist revolution. Artists can contribute a critique of capitalist society. This is critical realism: to criticize appearances and obscured social relations ... Artists play key roles in affecting consciousness and can help to transform the working class from a class-in-itself to a class-for-itself."[5]

On August 4, 2006, Ho was diagnosed with colon cancer. After chemotherapy, his health improved, but a second tumor was found on September 24, 2007.[6] He wrote two books about cancer: Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior: Fighting Cancer and Capitalism at the Cellular Level (2011), and Raw Extreme Manifesto: Change Your Body, Change Your Mind and Change the World While Spending Almost Nothing! (2012).[2] He received numerous grants, including from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation, and among the honours accorded him were a 1996 American Book Award,[2] a Guggenheim Fellowship, in 2009 the Harvard Arts Medal,[7] and in March 2014 (almost 1 month before his death) the Harlem Arts Festival Lynette Velasco Community Impact Award.[8] Ho died on April 12, 2014, aged 56, at his home in Brooklyn, New York.[9]


1985: Tomorrow is Now (Soul Note Records)
1985: Bamboo That Snaps Back (Finnadar)
1987: We Refuse to be Used and Abused (Soul Note Records)
1993: The Underground Railroad to My Heart (Soul Note records)
1996: Monkey Part 1 (Koch Jazz)
1997: Monkey Part 2 (Koch Jazz)
1997: Turn Pain Into Power (O.O. Discs)
1998: Yes Means Yes, No Means No, Whatever She Wears, Wherever She Goes (Koch)
1999: Warrior Sisters (Koch)
2001: Once Upon a Time in Chinese America (Innova)
2010: Innova Recordings/Big Red Media 788 - "Deadly She-Wolf Assassin At Armageddon! (soundtrack)/Momma's Song"
2011: Year of the Tiger (Innova)
2011: Snake-Eaters (Big Red Media)
2011: The Sweet Science Suite: A Scientific Soul Music Honoring of Muhammad Ali (Big Red Media)

With the Julius Hemphill Sextet

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