Teruko “Terry” Akagi Brooks ’45

Terry Akagi

Terry Akagi

Name: Teruko “Terry” Akagi Brooks

Birthdate: June 20, 1922

Parents: George Takuji Akagi & Yone Kanayaki Akagi

Siblings: Mossi M. Kusumi of Columbus, Yoshi Kiyabu of Honolulu, Terry of Oregon, and Dr. James Akagi of Lawrence, Kansas.

Transfer student?: from University of Washington

Internment Camp?: Family evacuated from home in Washington to a camp in Minidoka, Idaho.

Degree: B.M. in Violin from Conservatory of Music (for which she had won a music scholarship from the Japanese American Student Relocation Council); class of 1945

Post-Oberlin: Taught violin and played in symphony orchestras such as the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra, the Grant Park Chicago Orchestra, the National Women’s Symphony in Chicago, Virginia Symphony Orchestra (first chair) and the St. Louis Orchestra, where she met her husband Joseph Brooks. They lived together in Texas before she passed away on September 22, 1922.

News article reads:

“Career Born in Kindergarten”, Chicago, Ill. SUN TIMES. July 18, 1951

The first Japanese-American ever to win a full scholarship to the famous Berkshire Music Festival now in progress at Lennox, Mass., is a young and gifted Chicago violinist named Teruko Akagi.

A former resident of a Japanese relocation center in the West, she came here [to Chicago] six years ago from Oberlin College with a bachelor of music degree.

At that time, interestingly enough, she was so uncertain about her choice of a future that she asked a well-known Loop violin teacher, a stranger to her, to advise her whether or not to continue with her studies-studies she was financing by working part time in the office of a West Side calendar manufacturer.

Today, Teruko- or Terry, as she’s usually called- is one of “Boss” Petrillo’s busiest little (5-feet-2) girls. […]

Chronologically, the story of how she became a violinist began during her kindergarten days in her native Seattle, Wash. One day the teacher bade Terry and her kindergarten classmates to pick out their favorite musical instrument from a tableful of them. The teacher then organized the youngsters into a band.

“I picked a violin,” Terry told us before she entrained for the music encampment at Tanglewood, scene of Massachusett’s yearly music festival. “I became so attached to it that when it came time to go into first grade, I didn’t want to-because it meant leaving behind my violin.”

[The article then details how her parents presented her a violin and music lessons and that her freshman year at UW, where she majored in musical studies, was interrupted when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and West Coast Japanese were evacuated.]

“We were only allowed to take our personal belongings with us… and in selecting what to take, I almost left my violin behind.”

While working as an assistant teacher in the music department of the high school at Camp Minidoka, she won a scholarship to Oberlin College and was on her musical way again.

Crowding Oberlin’s four year course into two years (“including summer”), she managed to graduate with the class of 1945. Then, without contacts but with a B. of M. degree and $16, she came to Chicago (where her family had been relocated from Camp Minidoka) and landed a part time job with John C. Baumgarth Co.

In college, she had heard about the training orchestra maintained by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, and looked it up. Although promptly invited to play with it, she was beginning to be gnawed by the fear that there “was no place in this country for a Japanese-American girl musician.” And to dispel it, she sought out George Perlman, asking him: “Will you listen to me play, then tell me frankly whether or not I should forget all about it?”

Not only did he urge her to continue, but became her teacher. And through him she auditioned two years ago for her present October-through-March post with the thriving Kansas City Orchestra.


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