VANCOUVER, Wash. A mother’s present for her son has turned into a gift of music for all.
Former Hunt Camp internee Frances “Chickie” White released “Chickie,” a 2012 CD compilation of nine jazz standards like “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Crush On You.”
Initially meant as a recording for her son, Patrick, the singer’s CD has sold more than 100 copies online and at the release party in Vancouver, Wash. White said all the money will go back to the senior living village where she lives.
At age 87, White said she felt like time was running out and she needed to pursue this project. With Jim Iafrati, the piano accompanist, White created a soulful soundtrack that is available for $10 on CDbaby, an online independent music store.
Her rich voice tells the story of someone who has lived through the good and the bad ” singing all the while.
White started singing at age 15 when her family was sent to live inside the Minidoka Relocation Center outside of Hunt, Idaho.
When World War IIbroke out, White said, her family was living in Enumclaw, Wash., but they moved to Seattle to live with her sister. Ten family members lived inside her sister’s three-bedroom house.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen to us, so we wanted to be together,” White said.
Eventually the family was sent to the internment camp, but White said her experiences there were made more enjoyable because of music.
“It’s terrible to say, but we had fun. And people might think, ‘How could you have a good time at a place like that?’” she said. “We try to remember the good times there and the wonderful friends.”
White said she thinks her easy adjustment was because of her age. For the 15-year-old it was a whole new experience.
“It’s a lot easier to adjust at that age,” said White, who attended Hunt High School and graduated in 1944.
But music was another big reason.
Big band music, for 12 to 25 musicians, was popular during this time. But by the end of 1942, many of the young men in the camp where gone ” they joined the U.S. Army ” and as a result White performed a cappella. She remembers putting on shows out in the middle of the desert with people listening from folding chairs. She and others even recorded several songs at a local radio station, to be sent to troops in Europe.
When the war ended, White moved to Los Angeles and sang with Tets Bessho’s Band, a 13-piece Japanese big band, at dances, parties and colleges.
In 1951, all the big bands started to disband and White joined the Jim Araki, a combo of three to five musicians.
“When you sing with a band you sing the way they play,” White said. “In a combo you sing the way you want and they play the way you sing.”
She sang with Jim Araki for five years, and in 1956, at age 30, she married Ed White. They had a son and eventually moved back to the Pacific Northwest.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for 18 years,” White said.
The last time White stepped foot in Minidoka was 30 years ago, when she took her husband there.
She still meets up with classmates from Hunt High. There used to be 12 of them, but now they are down to six.
She is aware of former internees’ pilgrimage to the camp every year, but this year she was busy getting ready for her CD release party.
“It was wonderful, we had a lot of folks here,” said Laurie Miller, Courtyard Village Independent Senior Living marketing director.
Miller helped organize the party and has a copy of White’s CD.
“She did amazingly well,” Miller said.
White also amazed Patrick with her vocal talent by performing live at the party.
Patrick knew about his mother’s singing past, but it was the first time he had seen her perform.
“I’m so very happy and proud of her,” Patrick said. “It was incredibly moving.”
And just like a family heirloom, Patrick keeps his mother’s CD in a fire-proof safe to ensure it is around for future generations of family to hear.