In any conflict, there are those who step up and do extraordinary things, and then get little mention in history books. World War II was so big and complicated that many of these stories never get the attention they deserve. The internment of Americans of Japanese descent gets short shrift in history classes, but the big pictures comes out when you look for it. And buried within are fascinating stories of individuals, like the swing bands of the internment camps.
When Japanese-Americans were rounded up and forced into prison camps during World War II, they had every reason to do nothing but sit and sulk all day. They'd been branded as enemies of their country exclusively because of their race. However, they couldn't help themselves; as their label indicates, they were still Americans ... and Americans loved the shit out of swing music.
While living in the camps, Japanese-Americans coped however they could, and by far the swingin'-est, most hep method was to pick up an instrument and play. Art Hayashi, a prisoner at Washington State Fair Grounds in Puyallup, WA, became the leader of one of the many swing bands that came together behind the barbed wire fences. These bands ranged from trained professionals like Hayashi and his Harmonaires to kids off the street who figured that relocation gave them the perfect opportunity to learn how to play the saxophone.
Then there was George Yoshida, who upon being forced to move to Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona, was only allowed to carry one suitcase -- so naturally, he filled it with his jazz collection. Yoshida formed a band called the Poston Music Makers, and later told a jazz-ified version of his story through an album titled Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire.