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SXSW: Yoko Ono's Long Fight for Respect


by Stephen Becker 18 Mar 2011

While many people know about her artistry and activism, it’s her relationship with John Lennon that she will always be most famous for. And because of that, she’s always had to prove to her detractors that her art can stand on its own. But during a conversation Friday morning with KGSR’s Jody Denberg, Ono revealed that she was fighting for artistic respect long before she ever met Lennon.

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AUSTIN – Depending on your perspective, Yoko Ono is either a) a boundary-pushing artist, b) a respected peace activist c) the person you blame for the Beatles breakup or d) some combination of the above.

While many people know about her artistry and activism, it’s her relationship with John Lennon that she will always be most famous for. And because of that, she’s always had to prove to her detractors that her art can stand on its own. But during a conversation Friday morning with KGSR’s Jody Denberg, the 78-year-old revealed that she was fighting for artistic respect long before she ever met Lennon.

As a child, she says she wrote her first song at the age of 4. Soon she was interested in becoming a pianist like her father, who played when he wasn’t busy working as a banker. While she was struggling to learn the instrument, she heard her father talking in another room.

“Yoko’s not going to make it as a pianist. She should probably forget it. No more practice,” he said.

Amazingly, the young Yoko thought, “This is great!”

But that was just the beginning of the discouragement she received from her father, who she says she feels was only looking out for her. When she got a little older, she told him of her dreams to write songs. She says that he told her women “didn’t really have an aptitude” for composing and maybe she should focus on singing songs written by other people.

That thought stuck in her head when years later, Fort Worth’s Ornette Coleman asked Ono if she would like to perform with him during a concert he was giving at Royal Albert Hall in London. Ono told him she would only if she could play her own material, too. He said sure, and they played the show together.

And now she’s just released her sixth straight single to top the Billboard dance chart. Wonder what her ol’ dad would think about that?

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