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Yoko Ono's father Yeisuke Ono, was a banker and one-time classical pianist who was a descendant of an Emperor of Japan.
Yoko Ono was born in Japan in 1933. Yoko was in Tokyo through the great fire-bombing of March 9, 1945. Ono has said that she and her family were forced to beg for food while pulling their belongings in a wheelbarrow.
Ono's family moved to Scarsdale, New York after the war and Yoko enrolled in nearby Sarah Lawrence College. Ono loved meeting artists, poets and others who represented the "bohemian" freedom she longed for herself. Visiting galleries and art "happenings" in the city whetted her desire to publicly display her own artistic endeavors.
In 1956, she married composer Toshi Ichiyanagi. They divorced in 1962 after living apart for several years. On November 28 that same year, Ono married an American named Anthony Cox. Cox was a jazz musician, film producer and art promoter. Their daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox, was born two months later on August 3, 1963.
In the early years of this marriage, Ono left most of Kyoko's parenting to Cox while she pursued her art full-time and Tony managed publicity.
Ono first met John Lennon when he visited a preview of an exhibition of Ono's at the Indica Gallery in London on November 9, 1966. Lennon referred to Ono in many of his songs. While still a Beatle he wrote "The Ballad of John and Yoko," and he alluded to her indirectly in "Julia," a song dedicated to his mother, with the lyrics: "Ocean child calls me, so I sing a song of love." (The kanji "Yoko" means "ocean child").
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Ono and Lennon collaborated on many albums, beginning in 1968 when Lennon was still a Beatle, with Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, an album of experimental and difficult electronic music.
That same year, the couple contributed an experimental piece to The White Album called "Revolution 9." Ono also contributed backing vocals (on "Birthday"), and one line of lead vocals (on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill") to The White Album. Many of the couple's later albums were released under the name the Plastic Ono Band.
In 1969, the Plastic Ono Band's first album, Live Peace in Toronto 1969, was recorded during the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Festival. In addition to Lennon and Ono, this first incarnation of the group consisted of guitarist Eric Clapton, bass player Klaus Voormann, and drummer Alan White. During the second half of the performance, Ono took the microphone and along with the band performed an avant garde set, ending with music that consisted mainly of feedback, while Ono screamed and sang.
Ono and Lennon married on March 20, 1969 in Gibraltar.
In 1971, Ono released Fly – a double album. She received minor airplay with the ballad "Mrs. Lennon." Perhaps the most famous track from the album is "Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)," an ode to Ono's kidnapped daughter.
After the Beatles disbanded, Lennon and Ono cohabited in London and then in New York. Their relationship was very strained as Lennon faced near-certain deportation from the United States based on the British drug charges. The couple separated in 1973 and the two began living separate lives, Ono pursuing her career in New York and Lennon living in Los Angeles with personal assistant May Pang in a period commonly referred to as his "lost weekend."
In 1975, the couple reconciled. Their son, Sean, was born on Lennon's 35th birthday, October 9, 1975. After Sean's birth, the couple lived in relative seclusion at the Dakota in New York. John Lennon retired from music to become a househusband caring for their child, until shortly before his murder in December 1980, which Ono witnessed at close range.
Ono collaborated with experimental luminaries such as John Cage and jazz legend Ornette Coleman. In 1961, years before meeting Lennon, she had her first major public performance in a concert at the 258-seat Carnegie Recital Hall (not the larger "Main Hall.") This concert featured radical experimental music and performances.
Four months after her husband's murder, Ono began a relationship with antiques dealer and interior designer Sam Havadtoy, which lasted until 2001. In 1984, a tribute album titled Every Man Has a Woman was released, featuring a selection of Ono songs performed by artists such as Elvis Costello, Roberta Flack, Eddie Money, Rosanne Cash and Harry Nilsson. It was one of Lennon's projects that he never got to finish.
Later that year, Ono and Lennon's final album, Milk and Honey, was released as an unfinished demo.
Ono's final album of the 1980s was Starpeace, a concept album that she intended as an antidote to Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense system. Starpeace became Ono's most successful non-Lennon effort: the single "Hell in Paradise" was a hit, reaching No. 16 on the US dance charts and #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as major airplay on MTV.
In 1994, Ono produced her own musical entitled New York Rock, featuring Broadway renditions of her songs. In 1995, she released Rising, a collaboration with her son Sean and his band, Ima.
In July 2011, Ono will be awarded the 8th Hiroshima Art Prize for her contributions in art and for peace.