“I thought art was a verb, rather than a noun.” Yoko Ono
Japanese-born artist Yoko Ono is best known as the wife and professional partner of the late John Lennon. However, she proved herself with two Grammy-winning works: the album Double Fantasy (1980, worked with Lennon), which set off the popular song “Walking on Thin Ice,” as well as her self-executive produced documentary program Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s Imagine Album (2000).
Greatly inspired by artists La Monte Young, George Maciunas and John Cage, Ono has made numerous controversial works of art, including the art performance “Cut Piece,” the self-written short film No.4 (1966, co-directed with Anthony Cox), the album Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins (1968, recorded with Lennon), the documentary film Honeymoon (1969, also known as The Bed-In) and the 2004 remixes of her previous song “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him.” Soon, Ono will publish a tribute book to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Lennon’s death, titled “Memories of John Lennon.” As an international artist, she will attend the “Liberation” exhibition held by the organizers of the contemporary art project Saigon Open City (SOC), in November 2006.
The 84th woman on VH1’s “100 Greatest Women of Rock N Roll” was handed the 2001 International Association of Art Critics USA Award for Best Museum Show Originating in New York City, an honorary Doctorate of Law degree from the Liverpool University (2001) an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from Bard College (2002), the 2002 Skowhegan Medal, and the 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Japan Society of New York. Despite having admirers, Ono also gained a great deal of hatred due to her allegedly contribution to The Beatles’ separation by constantly attending and interfering in the Beatles recording sessions. There is now a term “Yoko factor,” which refers to the influence of wives or girlfriends on a band. During Lennon’s breakdown period, she and Lennon also made some hubbub with arrests due to drug use and possession.
As for her romantic life, before marrying John Lennon (1969 to his death in 1980), Ono was previously married to Toshi Ichiyanagi (1957-1964) and Anthony Cox (1964-1969, had a daughter, taken by Cox). After Lennon’s death, Ono was once linked to antiques dealer Sam Havadtoy and to art dealer Sam Green.
Childhood and Family:
Born on February 18, 1933, in Tokyo, Yoko Ono (whose first name translates to “ocean child”) is the eldest of three children born to wealthy aristocratic parents Eisuke Ono and Isoko Yasuda Ono. Her father is the descendant of a 9th Century Emperor of Japan and her mother is the granddaughter of banker Zenijiro Yasuda. At age 2, she relocated to California in the United States with her mother to join her father, who was the head of a bank in San Francisco.
Yoko’s artistic flair showed up during her first public concert at age four. For some time, she returned to Japan and attended the prestigious Jiyu-gakuen Music School, where she learned piano and composition, as well as voice training. In the early 1950s, she went to New York and studied at the Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville. Later, Yoko began befriending artists and dropped out of the prestigious college.
After marrying composer Toshi Ichiyanagi (in 1957), Yoko moved to Manhattan and intensified her interest in avant-garde art. They were divorced in 1964. The same year, she wed jazz musician/filmmaker Anthony Cox. They separated in 1969, after Yoko’s highly publicized affair with John Lennon. Yoko and John exchanged wedding vows in 1969 and were artistic and personal partners until his death (murdered in 1980). The couple has a son, Sean Lennon (born on October 9, 1975). Yoko also had a daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox (born on August 8, 1963, father: Anthony Cox), who was allegedly abducted by Anthony after they were divorced. Kyoko now lives quietly in Colorado.
Walking on Thin Ice
Yoko Ono met artist La Monte Young, who later helped her begin a professional career and became one of her artistic influences. They converted Ono’s Lower East Side loft into a concert hall and Ono created her first composition, “Secret Piece,” in 1955. She was also inspired by composer and artist John Cage (with whom she presented an experimental music and act performances at Carnegie Recital Hall), as well as George Maciunas (founder of the association of Dada-inspired avant-garde artists “Fluxus “). The influence was evident in Ono’s sales lists of imaginary or useless objects and her “Painting to be Stepped On” (paintings made by footprints). Ono’s other works of art were the interactive performance “Cut Piece,” where she sat on a stage and let the audience cut off her clothes until she was naked and the instructional book “Grapefruit” (1964).
Ono went to the screen by composing the soundtrack for Takahiko Iimura’s short movie Ai (1962). She also starred as Ito, a Japanese girl trapped in a New York’s crime scene, in the exploitation film Satan’s Bed (1965) before directing some short films, such as No.1 (1966), her self-written short film No.4 (1966, directed with second husband Anthony Cox) and Eyeblink (1966).
With her third husband, John Lennon, Ono recorded the album of experimental and electronic music titled Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins (1968), which raised controversy for its vulgar cover. They also made a short clip to accompany the album titled Two Virgins (1968). The same year, Ono and Lennon contributed the track “Revolution 9” for The Beatles’ album The White Album (1968) and made the short movie No. 5 (1968).
The following year, they created headlines with the documentary film Honeymoon (1969, also known as The Bed-In), in which the couple talked about world peace in their hotel room. It was followed by the made-for-TV short project Rape (1969). Ono and Lennon, now under the name the Plastic Ono Band, released the album Live Peace In Toronto (1969), their recorded live performance at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Festival, with Eric Clapton (guitar), Klaus Voorman (bass) and Alan White (drum). She next issued the solo album Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1970), the companion piece of the album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, containing primarily her wordless vocalizations.
Still making screen projects, Ono set off the short movies Up Your Legs Forever (1970), Freedom (1970, also starred), Fly (1970), Apotheosis (1970), The Museum of Modern Art Show (1971) and Erection (1971). She then released the double album Fly (1971), which offered punk rock music and some Fluxus experimental tracks. Following the surreal documentary Imagine (1972), Ono launched the feminist rock albums Approximately Infinite Universe (1973) and Feeling the Space (1973), which currently received a bit of critical respect for the tracks “Move on Fast,” “Yang Yang” and “Death of Samantha.” Ono then took a break.
Ono and Lennon returned with the comeback album Double Fantasy (1980). The album generated the singles “Walking on Thin Ice” (written by Ono), “Woman,” “Watching the Wheels,” “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” and “Kiss Kiss Kiss” (written by Ono). After Lennon was shot, the album immediately shoot up to No.1 and was garnered a Grammy for Album of the Year. Later, in 2000, the album was re-released with three bonus tracks.
Subsequent to the shocking event, Ono launched the album It’s Alright (I See Rainbows) in 1982, which spawned the minor hit “My Man,” “Never Say Goodbye” and Milk And Honey (1984). Her next album, Starpeace (1986), became her most successful attempt without Lennon, whereas its lead single, “Hell in Paradise,” reached No.16 on the US dance charts and No.26 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Ono then went on hiatus before eventually signing with Rykodisc, with which she launched the 6-disc box set Onobox (1992). The artist also brought her songs to the Broadway stage in her self-produced musical play “New York Rock” (1994), which preceded the release of the album Rising (1995), her collaboration with son Sean Lennon and his band Ima. Six years later, Ono enjoyed success with the feminist album Blueprint For A Sunrise (2001), as well as the remixed version of her previous singles, including the No.1 Billboard Dance/Club Play Chart single “Walking on Thin Ice” (Remix).
Ono received her second Grammy, this time for Best Long Form Music Video, after executive producing the documentary film Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s Imagine Album (2000). 2004 saw her burn the charts with the controversial remixes “Every Man Has a Man Who Loves Him” and “Every Woman Has a Woman Who Loves Her” (from her previous song “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him”), as well as raise eyebrows through her artistic piece “My Mummy Was Beautiful.” The work of art included banners, bags, stickers, postcards, flyers, posters and badges depicting a woman’s breast and vagina, which Yoko claimed represented motherhood.
Yoko Ono recently appeared at the opening ceremony for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. There, she read a free verse poem about world peace from a prepared script. The poem served as an intro to a performance using Lennon’s song “Imagine.”
- Grammy: Best Long Form Music Video, Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s Imagine Album, 2001
- Grammy: Album of the Year, Double Fantasy, shared with John Lennon and Jack Douglas, 1981