Yoko Ono

Missing image
Yoko Ono in Central Park, c. 1974

Yoko Ono Lennon (born February 18, 1933 in Tokyo, Japan) is a Japanese-born American musician and artist. She currently resides in New York City.

In Japanese, her name is written 小野 洋子 (Ono Yōko). Her first name translates to "ocean child".


Early Life

Born into a privileged background, she was the oldest child of Yasoko Isuda, a member of one of Japan's wealthiest banking families, and Eisuke Ono, who sacrificed a career as a classically-trained pianist to work as a banker. She attended the exclusive Gakushuin academy in Tokyo from primary school to the college division.

During World War II, the Ono family survived the bombing of Tokyo in an underground shelter. Ono and her siblings fled to the countryside, and were forced to beg for food while pulling their belongings in a wheelbarrow. Her father remained in the city and, unbeknownst to them, was incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in China.

After the war, Ono's family moved to Scarsdale, New York. She soon enrolled in Sarah Lawrence College.

In 1956, she married composer Toshi Ichiyanagi. They divorced in 1962.

Ono married American Anthony Cox on November 28, 1962. Cox was a jazz musician, film producer, and art promoter. Their marriage was annulled on March 1, 1963; they re-married on June 6, and finally divorced on February 2, 1969. Their daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox, was born on August 8, 1963. After a bitter legal battle, Ono was awarded permanent custody of Kyoko. However, in 1971 Cox, who had become a Christian fundamentalist after his divorce from Ono, abducted Kyoko and vanished. Ono and her daughter were finally reunited in 1998.


Ono was an early member of Fluxus, a loose association of avant-garde artists that developed in the early 1960s.

Ono helped invigorate both conceptual art and performance art. An example of her performance art is "Cut Piece", during which she sat on stage and invited the audience to use scissors to cut off her clothing until she was naked. An example of her conceptual art includes her book of instructions called Grapefruit. This book, first produced in 1964, includes instructions that are to be completed in the mind of the reader, for example: "Hide and Go Seek Piece: Hide until everyone forgets about you. Hide until everyone dies." The book was published several times, and most widely distributed by Simon and Schuster in 1971, and reprinted by them again in 2000.

Ono was also an experimental filmmaker. She made sixteen films between 1964 and 1972, and gained particular renown for a 1966 film called simply No. 4, but often referred to as "Bottoms". The film consists of a series of close-ups of human buttocks as the subject walks on a treadmill. The crack between the cheeks and the crease between the buttock and the leg divide the screen into four almost equal sections. The soundtrack consists of interviews with those who are being filmed as well as those considering joining the project. In 1996, the watch manufacturing company Swatch produced a limited edition watch that commemorates this film.

Ono's work may best be appreciated by an open mind. She has been described as "the world's most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does."

Life With Lennon

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John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 22 December, 1969 / Ottawa, Ont.

Ono is perhaps best known for marrying The Beatles' John Lennon. They first met when Lennon visited a preview of an exhibition of Ono's in London in 1966. He was taken with the attitude and interactivity of her work, such as a ladder leading up to the word "Yes" written on the ceiling, an instruction to hammer a nail into a panel of wood, and a decomposing apple. They began an affair two years later, eventually resulting in Lennon divorcing his first wife, Cynthia. They married on March 20, 1969 on the Rock of Gibraltar. Their son, Sean, was born on Lennon's 35th birthday, on October 9, 1975.

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 No. 9," which is to this day a love/hate phenomenon among fans. 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, 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 Voorman, and drummer Alan White. The first half of their performance consisted of rock standards, but during the second half, Ono took the microphone and along with the band performed what may be one of the first expressions of the avant garde during a rock concert. The set ended with music that consisted mainly of feedback, while Ono screamed and sang.

Ono released her first solo album, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band in 1970, as a companion piece to Lennon's more well-known John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The two albums have almost identical covers, and both explore primal scream vocalizations. However, while Lennon's utilized mostly conventional songwriting, Ono's was an all-out screaming assault on the ears - an album including raw and quite harsh vocals that were possibly influenced by Japanese opera. Perhaps, the most (in)famous song on Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band is "Why", which features Ono screaming the word "Why" for five minutes. Some critics were receptive of the work, however, declaring her voice "the most interesting instrument since the Moog". The album is now credited as being the grassroots of the punk revolution. It peaked at no. 183, but this may be because people mistook it for Lennon's release.

1971 saw the followup release, Fly - a double album, which included a poster and a postcard to order Ono's book, Grapefruit. On this release Ono explored slightly more conventional punk rock with tracks like "Midsummer New York" and "Mind Train." She also 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. Ono later released two feminist rock albums— 1972's Approximately Infinite Universe and 1973's Feeling The Space—which received little attention. Today, they are recognized with much critical respect, particularly for tracks such as "Move on Fast," "Yang Yang" and "Death of Samantha."

Ono is often accused by Beatles fans of breaking up the band; to this day, women who have (intentionally or not) come between high-profile musicians and their bandmates are compared to Ono, Nancy Spungen and Courtney Love being just two examples. In a 2003 interview with Jay Leno, Ono described the disappointment she felt by the breakup of the Beatles and how it affected the lifestyle that she was used to.

There are Lennon fans who, in addition, blame Ono for the experimental phase (considered difficult and bizarre) that Lennon explored in his work immediately following the Beatles' breakup. On the other hand, many fans consider—as Lennon consistently attested—that Ono had a profound and beneficial influence on his body of work.

Ono is also sometimes blamed for Lennon's heroin addiction in the early 1970s, as she is widely believed to have introduced him to the drug. Who introduced whom to heroin is unknown, but they both suffered from addiction on and off for a few years.

From the early 1970s until Lennon's public seclusion upon Sean's birth in 1975, Lennon and Ono produced less music as they became increasingly engaged in political activism (which possibly was a cause of Lennon's troubles with U.S. Immigration).

When Lennon and Ono separated in 1973, Ono "selected" their secretary May Pang to be Lennon's lover while they were apart. Lennon and Pang were together until 1975, when he and Ono reconciled.

Musical Career

Ono achieved success as a musician in her own right. Indeed, years before meeting Lennon, she had her first major public performance in an all-Ono concert at the Carnegie Recital Hall in 1961. This concert featured radical experimental music and performances.

Ono's music changed after her marriage; while many of her early songs retain the surreal quality of her art and films, her later songs are usually more conventional — for example, the seven pop songs that she contributed to the album, Double Fantasy.

In the spring of 1980, Lennon heard the B-52's' "Rock Lobster" in a nightclub, and it reminded him of Ono's musical soundworld. He ran to a public phone, called Yoko and said "They're finally ready for us, love!" Indeed, many musicians, particularly those of the new wave movement, have paid tribute to Ono (both as an artist in her own right, and as a muse and iconic figure). For example, Elvis Costello recorded a version of Ono's song "Walking On Thin Ice", the B-52's covered "Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)" (shortening the title to "Don't Worry"), and Sonic Youth included a performance of Ono's early conceptual "Voice Piece for Soprano" in their fin de siecle album Goodbye 20th Century. One of Barenaked Ladies's best-known songs is "Be My Yoko Ono," and Dar Williams recorded a song called "I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono." The punk rock singer Patti Smith invited Ono to participate in "Meltdown," a two-week music festival that Smith organized in London during June 2005; Ono performed at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Missing image
A still from the "Walking on Thin Ice" video.

On the night of December 8, 1980, Lennon and Ono were in the studio working on Ono's song "Walking On Thin Ice." When they returned to The Dakota, their home in New York City, Lennon was murdered by deranged fan Mark David Chapman. "Walking on Thin Ice (For John)" was released as a single less than a month later, and became Ono's first chart success, peaking at No. 58 and gaining major underground airplay. In 1981, she released the album Season of Glass with the striking cover photo of Lennon's shattered, bloody spectacles next to a glass of water, with a window overlooking Central Park in the background. This led some critics to accuse her of being tasteless and exploitative. However, Ono said that she chose such a provocative image because she wanted to remind people that Lennon hadn't just died, but had been murdered. (This photograph sold at an auction in London in April 2002 for about $13,000.) In the liner notes to Season of Glass, Ono explained that the album is not dedicated to Lennon because "he would have been offended - he was one of us."

Life After Lennon

1982 saw the release of It's Alright (I See Rainbows), a more positive album as Ono began the healing process following the loss of her husband. The cover featured Ono in her famous wrap-around sunglasses, looking boldly towards the sun, while on the back the ghost of Lennon looks over Ono and Sean. The album has been described as Ono's pop sensibilites and avant-garde influences meeting each other halfway. It scored minor chart success and airplay with the singles "My Man" and "Never Say Goodbye."

In 1984, a tribute album entitled Every Man Has A Woman was released, featuring Ono classics performed by artists such as Elvis Costello, Roberta Flack, Eddie Money, Roseanne 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 in unfinished demo state.

Missing image
The program from Ono's 1986 "Starpeace" world tour.

Ono's final album of the 1980s was Starpeace, a concept album glowing with positivity that was intended as an antidote to Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense system. On the cover, a warm, smiling Ono holds the Earth in the palm of her hand. Despite almost unanimous critical praise for the album, Starpeace received little commercial attention. The single "Hell in Paradise" was a hit, however, reaching No. 16 on the US dance charts.

In 1986 Ono set out on a goodwill world tour for Starpeace, mostly visiting Eastern European countries that she felt were in need of her message of peace. The media were largely unfair in their coverage of the tour, accusing Ono of "ego-tripping" and ridiculing her for underselling venues. In one case, a photo of Ono rehearsing to an empty hall before the show was printed as if nobody had come to the actual concert. A German DJ was also encouraging people to turn up and throw glass bottles at her. Despite the bad press, however, the fans loved the shows, critics unanimously praised her for her performances, and she filled a venue of 15,000 in Budapest.

Ono went on hiatus until signing with Rykodisc in 1992 to release the comprehensive 6-disc box set Onobox. It included remastered highlights from all of Ono's solo albums, as well as unreleased material from the 1974 "lost weekend" sessions. There was also a one-disc "greatest hits" release of highlights from Onobox, simply titled Walking on Thin Ice. In 1994, Yoko produced her own musical entitled New York Rock, featuring Broadway renditions of her songs.

1995 saw Ono's comeback with the release of Rising, a collaboration with her son Sean Lennon and his band Ima. It received wide critical praise and is often considered one of her best albums. Rising spawned a world tour that traveled through Europe, Japan and the United States. The following year, she collaborated with various alternative rock musicians for an EP entitled Rising Mixes. Guest remixers of Rising material included Cibo Matto, Ween, Tricky, and Thurston Moore.

In 1997, as public interest was growing in Ono's work, Rykodisc reissued all her solo albums on CD, from Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band through Starpeace. Ono and her engineer John Stevens personally remastered the audio, and various bonus tracks were added including outtakes, demos and live cuts.

Missing image
The cover of ONO's successful "Walking on Thin Ice" 2003 remix single.

2001 saw the release of the critically successful feminist concept album Blueprint for a Sunrise. Starting in 2002, cutting-edge DJs began remixing other Ono songs for dance clubs. For the remix project, she dropped her first name and became known as simply "ONO", as a response to the "Oh, no!" jokes that dogged her throughout her career. ONO had great success with new versions of "Walking on Thin Ice", remixed by top DJs and dance artists including Pet Shop Boys, Orange Factory, Peter Rauhofer, and Danny Tenaglia. In April 2003 ONO's Walking On Thin Ice (Remixes) was rated No. 1 on Billboard Magazine's "Dance/Club Play Chart", gaining ONO her first number one hit. On the 12" mix of the original 1981 version of "Walking on Thin Ice", Lennon can be heard remarking "I think we've just got your first No.1, Yoko."

During her career, Ono has collaborated with a diverse group of artists and musicians including John Cage, David Tudor, George Maciunas, Ornette Coleman, Charlotte Moorman, George Brecht, Jackson Mac Low, Jonas Mekas, Yvonne Rainer, La Monte Young, Richard Maxfield, Yo La Tengo, and Andy Warhol. (In 1987 Ono was one of the speakers at Warhol's funeral.)

Political activism

Since the 1960s, Ono has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of peace and human rights. After their wedding, Lennon and Ono held a "Bed-In for Peace" in their honeymoon suite at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel in March 1969. The press fought to get in, presuming that the two would be having sex for their cameras, but they instead found a pair of newlyweds wearing pajamas and eager to talk about and promote world peace. Another Bed-In in May 1969 in Montreal resulted in the recording of their first single, "Give Peace A Chance," a Top 20 hit for the newly-christened Plastic Ono Band.

In 2002 Ono inaugurated her own peace award by giving $50,000 (31,900) prize money to artists living "in regions of conflict." Israeli and Palestinian artists were the first recipients. In 2004 Ono remade her song "Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him" to support same-sex marriage, releasing remixes that included "Every Man Has a Man Who Loves Him" and "Every Woman Has a Woman Who Loves Her."

Reconciliation with McCartney

Ono has allegedly had a turbulent relationship with Paul McCartney. The dispute has centered on, among other issues, the writing credits for many Beatles songs. While the Beatles were still together, every song written by Lennon or McCartney was credited to Lennon-McCartney regardless of whether the song was collaboration or a solo project. After Lennon's death, McCartney attempted to change the order to "McCartney-Lennon" for songs that were solely or predominantly written by him, but Ono would not allow it. The only post-Beatles song to be credited to Lennon-McCartney was the anthem "Give Peace a Chance," which was first recorded May 31, 1969 at the "Bed-In" that Lennon and Ono staged in Queen Elizabeth's Hotel in Montreal. This song was released on the Plastic Ono Band album Live Peace In Toronto. Co-writing credit to McCartney is not given on some releases of the song.

Despite their differences, in 1995 Ono and Sean Lennon collaborated with McCartney and his family to create the song "Hiroshima Sky is Always Blue," which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on the Japanese city. Of Ono, McCartney stated: "I thought she was a cold woman. I think that's wrong ... she's just the opposite ... I think she's just more determined than most people to be herself."

Missing image
Ono in front of one of the controversial "My Mummy Was Beautiful" posters

Still Provocative

Ono again proved herself to be a provocative and controversial artist with her contribution to the fourth Liverpool Biennial in 2004. With banners, bags, stickers, postcards, flyers, posters and badges, she flooded the city with two images: one of a womans naked breast, the other of her pudendum. The piece, titled "My Mummy Was Beautiful," was dedicated to Lennon's mother, Julia, who had died when Lennon was a teenager. According to Ono the work was meant to be innocent, not shocking. She was attempting to replicate the experience of a baby looking up at his or her mothers body: the mothers vagina and breasts are a childs introduction to humanity. Some in Liverpool, including Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird, found the citywide installation offensive. However, others appreciated the conceptuality of the work. The UK newspaper The Times, for example, called it "brilliant."


(with US chart positions)


with John Lennon



with John Lennon

  • "Give Peace a Chance"/"Remember Love" (1969) (#14)
  • "Cold Turkey" (Lennon)/"Don't Worry, Kyoko" (Ono) (1969) (#30)
  • "Instant Karma" (Lennon)/"Who Has Seen the Wind?" (Ono) (1970) (#3)
  • "Mother" (Lennon)/"Why" (Ono) (1971) (#43)
  • "Power to the People" (Lennon)/"Open Your Box" (Ono) (1971) (#11)
  • "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"/"Listen, the Snow is Falling" (1971) (#3)
  • "(Just Like) Starting Over" (Lennon)/"Kiss Kiss Kiss" (Ono)(1980) (#1)
  • "Woman" (Lennon)/"Beautiful Boys" (Ono)(1981) (#2)
  • "Watching the Wheels" (Lennon)/"Yes, I'm Your Angel" (Ono) (1981) (#10)
  • "Nobody Told Me" (Lennon)/"O'Sanity" (Ono)(1984) (#5)
  • "I'm Stepping Out" (Lennon)/"Sleepless Night" (Ono)(1984) (did not chart)
  • "Borrowed Time" (Lennon)/"Your Hands" (Ono)(1984) (did not chart)


  • "Mrs. Lennon"/"Midsummer New York" (1971) (did not chart)
  • "Now or Never"/"Move on Fast" (1972) (did not chart)
  • "Mind Train"/"Listen, the Snow is Falling" (1972) (did not chart)
  • "Death of Samantha"/"Yang Yang" (1973) (did not chart)
  • "Josejoi Banzai" (1973) (did not chart)
  • "Woman Power"/"Men, Men, Men" (1973) (did not chart)
  • "Run, Run, Run"/"Men, Men, Men" (1973) (did not chart)
  • "Walking On Thin Ice"/"It Happened" (1981) (#58)
  • "No, No, No"/"Will You Touch Me" (1981) (did not chart)
  • "Goodbye Sadness"/"I Don't Know Why" (1981) (did not chart)
  • "My Man"/"Let The Tears Dry" (1982) (did not chart)
  • "Never Say Goodbye"/"Loneliness" (1983) (did not chart)
  • "Hell in Paradise" (1985) (#16)
  • "Cape Clear" (1985) (did not chart)
  • "Open Your Box" (maxi-single) (2001) (did not chart)
  • "Kiss Kiss Kiss" (maxi-single) (2002) (#20)
  • "Yang Yang" (maxi-single) (2002) (#17)
  • "Walking On Thin Ice" (maxi-single) (2003) (#1)
  • "Will I"/"Fly" (maxi-single) (2003) (#19)
  • "Hell In Paradise" (maxi-single) (2004) (#4)
  • "Everyman... Everywoman" (maxi-single promoting gay marriage) (2004) (#1)

External links


  • UbuWeb: Yoko Ono (http://www.ubu.com/sound/ono.html) featuring Fluxus pieces and later songs

Template:Commonsda:Yoko Ono de:Yoko Ono es:Yoko Ono fr:Yoko Ono he:יוקו אונו nl:Yoko Ono pl:Yoko Ono ja:オノ・ヨーコ simple:Yoko Ono sv:Yoko Ono zh:小野洋子


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