Tiny KEET’s Big Bands reveals musical life in incarceration camps

By Dru Sefton

KEET in Eureka, Calif. — one of the smallest TV stations in the pubcasting system — has produced a unique documentary featuring woodcut animation: Searchlight Serenade: Big Bands in the Japanese American Incarceration Camps.

The 58-minute film provides first-person accounts of nine detainees who played trumpet and saxophone and sang for their fellow prisoners. Their stories are animated with traditional Japanese woodcuts and drawings by local artist Amy Uyeki, whose parents had lived in the camps.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, in 1941, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into the holding areas during World War II. Musical performances in the camps by 20 big bands provided an important diversion.

KEET is one of 24 organizations nationwide to receive 2011 funding from the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites grant program to preserve and interpret sites where Japanese Americans were confined.

The program is available for broadcast on other PBS member stations.

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