Most of us have read about — or even remember — the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. It was especially prevalent in the Western United States, and was an accepted practice at the time with lots of historical precedence, but it was later condemned and now seems barbaric to us. The people who were penned up would later try to restart their lives, and many would face difficulties, but one little girl who spent time in the Granada War Relocation Center in Colorado would later become a star on Broadway.
Chiyoko ‘Chiby’ Suzuki was born and raised in Northern California, the youngest child in an immigrant Japanese farming family, but spent some of her childhood behind the fence in Colorado. In the post-war years she was able to somewhat resume a normal life, and even spent some time in college before eventually relocating to New York in the early 1950s to try her luck at show business.
She found work as an understudy in a road production of Teahouse Of The August Moon, and was soon touring the country with the show. During the tour, she was able to latch on to a regular singing job in a Seattle night club, and it was there that a certain crooner happened to catch her act. Bing Crosby was so impressed by the young singer that he helped her land a recording contract.
Good record sales added to appearances on a number of TV variety shows (video below) led to a growing popularity for the singer, and she soon landed a key role in the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song. Her performance — and her stunning rendition of “I Enjoy Being a Girl” (clip) — made her a star.
Like many Broadway stars, she was passed over when Hollywood later made the show into a movie (Nancy Kwan filled the role, with dubbed singing). But Pat Suzuki was well-positioned to continue her career, and ‘Miss Pony Tail’, as she was often called, continued to make records and entertain fans in other shows, like South Pacific.
In addition to her singing, in the 1970s she became part of the first Asian-American sitcom when she starred (with Pat Morita) in Mr. T. and Tina. Although the TV show didn’t last long and things slowed down considerably for her in later years, she continues to be active even now, and still makes the occasional singing appearance.