Fred Ho

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Fred Ho
Fred Ho.jpg
Fred Ho in 2005
Background information
Native name 侯维翰
Birth name Fred Wei-han Houn
Also known as Hóu Wéihàn
Born (1957-08-10)August 10, 1957
Palo Alto, California
Died April 12, 2014(2014-04-12) (aged 56)
Brooklyn, New York
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Composer, bandleader, playwright, writer and Marxist social activist
Instruments Baritone saxophone
Years active 1985-2011
Labels Soul Note Records
Associated acts Julius Hemphill Sextet

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]

Ho arduously sought to define what constitutes Asian-American jazz: “What makes Chinese American music Chinese American? What would comprise an Asian American musical content and form that could transform American music in general rather than simply be subsumed in one or another American musical genre such as ‘jazz’?” He polemicized against, rightfully, “the white assimilationist notion of the petty bourgeois Asian American artist that anything by an Asian American artist makes it Asian American,” pointing out that, for instance, “Yo-Yo Ma is a cellist who happens to be Chinese/Asian American, not a Chinese/Asian American musician.” [4]

In his role as an activist, many of his works fuse the melodies of indigenous and traditional Asian and African forms of music. He envisions his music to be a real synthesis: "In opposing cultural imperialism, a genuine multicultural synthesis embodies revolutionary internationalism in music: rather than co-opting different cultures, musicians and composers achieve revolutionary transformation predicated upon anti-imperialism in terms of both musical respect and integrity as well as a practical political economic commitment to equality between peoples."[4]

Ho also co-edited four books: Sounding Off! Music as Subversion/Resistance/Revolution (1996), Legacy to Liberation: Politics and Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America (2001), Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans (2008), and Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz (2013). 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.

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 I, Monkey II, The Underground Railroad to My Heart (Soul Note), We Refuse To Be Used And Abused, and Tomorrow is Now! [4]

In his 2000 book, Legacy to Liberation,[5] 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."[6]

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.[7] 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,[8] and in March 2014 (almost 1 month before his death) the Harlem Arts Festival Lynette Velasco Community Impact Award.[9] At the 17th Annual Black Musicians Conference, Ho received the Duke Ellington Distinguished Artist Lifetime Achievement Award, which he was the youngest person to achieve.[4] Ho died on April 12, 2014, aged 56, at his home in Brooklyn, New York.[10]


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 I (Koch Jazz)
1997: Monkey Part II (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)
2009: Celestial Green Monster (Mutable Music)
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

Books Edited by Ho[edit]

Books about Ho[edit]

  • Fujino, Diane C., ed. Wicked Theory, Naked Practice: A Fred Ho Reader. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
  • Buckley, Roger N., and Tamara Roberts, ed. Yellow Power, Yellow Soul: The Radical Art of Fred Ho (Asian American Experience). Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2013.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ratliff, Ben (April 12, 2014). "Fred Ho, Saxophonist, Composer and Radical Activist, Dies at 56". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  2. ^ a b c John Stevenson, "Fred Ho: Baritone saxophonist whose innovative output was influenced by his social and environmental beliefs", The Independent, May 30, 2014.
  3. ^ John Fordham, "Fred Ho obituary - Jazz saxophonist and composer who identified with the civil rights struggles in America", The Guardian, April 28, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Fred Ho, "Beyond Asian American Jazz," in Wicked Theory, Naked Practice: A Fred Ho Reader. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Ho" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  5. ^ Allan Kozinn, "Boxer’s Tale, Fashioned by a Fighter, Fred Ho and the ‘Sweet Science Suite’", New York Times, October 10, 2013.
  6. ^ Ho, Fred Wei-han & Carolyn Antonio. Legacy to Liberation: Politics and Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America. AK Press, 2000; ISBN 1-902593-24-3/ISBN 978-1-902593-24-1, p. 387.
  7. ^ Ho, Fred (2007-12-07). "Cancer Diary". Autonomedia. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  8. ^ "Harvard Arts Medalist named: Composer, musician Fred Ho ’79 honored" (Press release). Harvard University. October 13, 2009. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Community Service Award Named For Late Harlem Council Aide Lynette Velasco". DNAinfo New York. 
  10. ^ "World Famous Saxophone player Fred Ho Performs his final performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (October 11–12, 2013); accessed April 14, 2014.

External links[edit]