Japanese-American Ballet Pioneer Sono Osato Dies at Age 99

Especially notable:
Upper right, Sono rehearsing with famed choreographer Jerome Robbins.
Center, from Vogue Magazine’s April 1945 issue.
Bottom center, Sono leaping during rehearsal under the watchful eye of the legendary Agnes de Mille.
Bottom right, a publicity photo for her role in the film The Kissing Bandit, starring Frank Sinatra.

Trailblazing Japanese-American ballet dancer Sono Osato died this past week at the age of 99. She was born in Omaha to a Japanese father and a white mother whose marriage had taken place in Iowa, given that such an interracial union was illegal in Nebraska at the time. As a 14 year old she was the first American to join the famed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and after returning to the States, she became a key performer for American Ballet Theatre. But the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, her immigrant father was incarcerated in Chicago and, shortly after, branded by the authorities an enemy alien. She herself began to go by her mother’s maiden name, Fitzpatrick, under pressure from ABT management, and she was not permitted to enter the state of California or travel outside the U.S. when the company went on tour. (Her brother Tim, however, was able to travel abroad, serving in Europe as a member of the famous all-Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit of its size in American military history.)

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