Fred Ho was a baritone saxophonist, composer, writer and activist who was known for the way he so eloquently, sometimes chaotically, fused jazz and traditional Chinese music to both captivate audiences and advance his political ideology. Drawn to the Black Power and Black Arts movements as a teenager, he began speaking out against injustices toward Blacks and Asians at an early age. As a young man, Ho focused more on activism than music, creating the East Coast Asian Students Union (while studying at Harvard) and later co-founding the Asian American Arts Alliance. When he took a class and was exposed to the writings of Malcolm X and other anti-oppression authors, this began to change the way that Ho saw himself. He adopted a Chinese American identity and sought not to assimilate but to walk his own path, a path that would eventually lead him back to music.
After graduating from Harvard with a Bachelor’s in Sociology in 1979, Ho went on to create the Afro Asian Music ensemble in 1982 and used his shows to make political points, in such works as the opera, Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors, which was a mosaic of Chinese folklore, feminism, anti-colonialism and Black politics. Ho was a proponent of arts and music as a tool for revolution, raising awareness and going against the status quo. He was a vital part of advancing Afro Asian civil rights and at the time of his death in April 2014, was working on a book about Asian and African American solidarity work.
By Natasha Peterson