Yoko Ono was born in Tokyo, Japan on February 18, 1933 to Isoko and Yeisuke Ono. Her father was a Banker for the Yokohama Specie Bank and a descendant of the Emperor of Japan. Her father left for San Francisco on a business trip two weeks before Yoko was born and she did not see her father until she was two, when her family moved to San Francisco. Between 1937 and 1941, she moved back to Japan, then to New York City, and then finally ending back in Japan.
She spent her childhood in war-torn Japan, where air-raids were a frequent occurrence. Ono began studying piano almost as soon as she could walk, developing an aptitude for music at a very young age, playing her first public concert at the age of four. As a child she attended the highly selective Jiyu-gakuen Music School in Japan, where many of the country’s leading musical composers have studied at some time. Here, she learned piano and composition and learned to sing classical opera and German lieder. She also attended school with Emperor Hirohito’s son Yoshi, with whom she formed a strong friendship.
After the war, her family returned to New York City and she attended the prestigious Sarah Lawrence College. Yoko started meeting artist and poets against her parents will and as she started going more and more art galleries, she had a greater and greater desire to publicly display her own art. It was here that she met her first husband, Toshi Ichiyanagi, who was a music student at Juillard at the time. Also during this time (the late 1950s and early 1960s), “Ono began to explore and experiment with new approached to performing in general and performance art in particular. In 1960, she and her close friend La Monte Young began to stage a series of loft events on Chambers Street in Manhattan, which soon attracted the attracted the attention of leading members of New York’s avant-garde artistic community” (Yoko Ono Biography).
However, Ono’s bohemian New York lifestyle created a rift with her parents, and as a result, she soon broke away from her wealthy, privileged background. Life became financially tough during this time period- Ono supported herself through various waitressing, teaching, and management jobs. In 1962, her marriage with Ichiyanagi crumbled as well, and she returned to Japan to live with her parents.
Anthony Cox, an American jazz musician, film producer and art promoter, heard about Yoko and tracked her down to a mental institution in Japan, where she had been sent by her parents after she attempted suicide. Cox and Yoko were officially married in June 6, 1963 and Yoko gave birth to her daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox, two months later. Unfortunately, their marriage ended a little over a year later.
Ono soon returned to New York with her daughter and renewed her interest and involvement in performance art. According to The Biography Channel, “one of her first artistic ventures on returning to America was to dream up the idea for a film called ‘Bottoms’, which involved some 365 of her friends and volunteers agreeing to have their buttocks photographed naked and close up” (Yoko Ono Biography). When drafting her advertisement seeking volunteers for the project, she wrote: ‘Intelligent-looking bottoms wanted for filming. Possessors of unintelligent-looking ones need not apply!’
In 1966, Yoko met her soon-to-be third husband, John Lennon, while in London at a preview for her own art show. Lennon and Ono were instantly attracted to one another, however, “fans of the famous Beatle musician were outraged and the liaison was not a popular match in the public eye - Ono soon acquired the nickname Dragon Lady” (Yoko Ono Biography). Together, they began to formulate a wide range of projects.
Ono’s work was not widely popular because “it was frequently so abstract- indeed, many of Lennon‘s fans dismissed her as a fake and charlatan. For example, most of her art pieces were white, which she claimed allowed the observers to imagine whatever colours they liked - even a painting entitled ‘Blue Room’ was actually white. Lennon’s fans were even more dismayed when the famous Beatle began taking part in her controversial public events: the couple appeared together dressed in black plastic bin-liners; this was intended to be a statement about the drawbacks of ‘judging by appearances’” (Yoko Ono Biography).
In the spring of 1969, Lennon and Ono were married, and the couple was never far away from the public’s eye. In 1972, the couple released their protest song, ‘Sometime in New York City,’ which was widely criticized for being too simplistic. Years later, Ono gave birth to Sean Taro Ono Lennon, on October 9, 1975.
Following Lennon’s tragic death just 5 years later, Ono continued her solo musical career, as well as exploring new directions in her art and her life. She learned to express her grief “in music, with the release of the disturbing album- ‘Season of Glass’ in 1981, which was followed with a more upbeat and optimistic musical offering ‘It’s Alright (I See Rainbows)’ in 1982. Over the years, she resumed her former career as a visual artist and returned to creating art installations as well as pursuing a newfound interest in photography” (Yoko Ono Biography).
In recent years, Ono has been working on re-releasing remixes of some of her old songs and is a peace activist. In July of 2011, she was awarded the 8th Hiroshima Art Prize for her contributions in art and for peace.
By: Sarah D. and Jonathan S.
- "Yoko Ono Biography." Yoko Ono. AETN UK. Web. 13 May 2012. <http://www.thebiographychannel.co.uk/biographies/yoko-ono.html>