After a long, courageous battle against metastatic colon cancer, which he was diagnosed with in August 2006, choreographer, martial artist, musician, playwright, political prisoner and revolutionary Fred Ho succumbed to the illness on the morning of April 12 at his Greenpoint, Brooklyn, home. He was 56.
He was born Fred Wei-han Houn on Aug. 10, 1957, in Palo Alto, Calif., to parents who emigrated from China. In 1988, he changed his surname to Ho.
The multitalented musician was a jazz baritone saxophonist, bandleader and composer who created his unique Afro-Asian sound by fusing the melodies of indigenous and traditional Asian and African music, which he contended was the music of the majority of the world’s population. He often mentioned the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s as a major source of inspiration.
He served in the Marines, where he learned hand-to-hand combat. He was discharged in 1975 because, he said, he had a physical confrontation with an officer who had used a racial slur. While in his 20s, he briefly joined the Nation of Islam and then the I Wor Kuen, a radical Asian-American group inspired by the Black Panthers.
He attended Harvard University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1979. In 2009, he received the Harvard Arts Medal.
Ho also co-edited two books: “Legacy to Liberation: Politics and Culture of Revolutionary Asian Pacific America” and “Sounding Off! Music as Subversion/Resistance/Revolution.” He had a third book in progress at the time of his passing. The book, which he was co-writing with Bill Mullen, a professor of African-American studies at Purdue University, was about African-Americans and Asians working together in civil rights. He has contributed immensely to the Asian-American empowerment movement and other various social agendas.
On Aug. 4, 2006, Ho was diagnosed with colon cancer. After chemotherapy, his health improved, but a second tumor was found on Sept. 24, 2007.
He is survived by his mother, Frances Lu Houn; two sisters, Florence Houn and Flora Houn Hoffman, and their families; and his companion, Melanie West. He leaves behind a legendary body of musical work, several books about political theory and the cultural politics of music that he authored and co-edited, a revolutionary political movement, Scientific Soul Sessions, two big bands and a distinct Afro-Asian aesthetic.
No funeral was held; instead, Ho was cremated, and his ashes were spread over the sea of Kauai, Hawaii, where he will swim forever among the coral reefs.
A memorial is being organized to be held at BAMcafé in Brooklyn. A celebration concert with the Eco-Music Big Band was held on April 23, with concerts at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at Ginny’s Supper Club at Red Rooster Harlem.