DVD Searchlight Serenade

Big Bands in the Japanese American Incarceration Camps

The documentary offers first-person accounts of 9 detainees - big band trumpet players, saxophonists and singers - who created a soulful escape for themselves and their fellow prisoners. Their stories are interwoven with an evocative animation created from woodcuts and drawings by local Arcata artist, Amy Uyeki.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and forced to live in incarceration camps during World War II. As families and individuals endeavored to create a sense of normalcy during their incarceration, many detainees engaged in artistic and athletic activities and some nurtured their love of music, especially the popular music of the day - swing. SEARCHLIGHT SERENADE focuses on the proliferation of big bands in assembly centers and internment camps throughout the West during World War II. Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) quickly organized dance bands when they were evacuated to the fairgrounds and racetracks that were converted into temporary assembly centers and re-organized them once they were moved to the relocation centers in desolate areas of the country. In all, twenty bands were created and thrived in 13 assembly centers and internment camps from 1942 to 1945. Swing music played a vital role as escape, as therapy, and as a connection to the outside American world. Playing and appreciating such a totally American art form was an aspect of their American identity that could not be denied within the confines of the camps or the denial of their civil rights.