Allegro

By Helene Honda

In this fictionalized memoir, Marissa Ohara and Charles Lyons are freelance musicians working in the casino orchestras in Las Vegas in the 1970s. They are among a handful of classically trained string players in the bands that backed the popular singers of the day: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Goulet, Shirley MacLaine, etc. The bands were basically Big Band, and the added strings produced rich symphonic sounds to enhance these idols’ spectacular shows.

Marissa and Charlie form a close friendship that eventually leads to marriage. The reader is taken behind the scenes of the workplace—backstage and the band rooms—to see the interaction between the players and the stars who were idols in the then-flourishing music business.

In 1970 Las Vegas was just a budding desert town. It had a small branch of the University of Nevada where Charlie enrolled as candidate for a doctorate in Nevada history. He supported himself while in college by continuing to play in the Strip orchestras. Marissa lived with him and worked full time in the casino bands for the big stars who appeared nonstop for two decades. Marissa Ohara is not Irish, as her last name might suggest. Rather she is full-blooded Japanese, but thoroughly American by birth and upbringing.

Marissa’s father, George Shigeo Ohara, a second-generation American, was in his senior year at the University of California at Berkeley when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Through Charlie’s knowledge of history Marissa becomes aware of her parent’s wartime subjugation. She also learns about the life of the Japanese immigrant in California in the early 1900s: how people of her parents’ and grandparents’ generations came to America, and how they were denied social and economic advancement available to their white fellow citizens.

This book also tells of the 120,000 innocent Japanese-American men, women, and children uprooted from their homes during the war, with details about the evacuation and the three years they were forced to live in barbed wire camps. These stories are drawn from the writer’s own experience as one of those internees.