Before the K-pop groups we know and love were created, before K-pop was really even a thing, a group of sisters performing as a trio would become popular during the 1950s and decades to come. They traveled to the U.S., bringing to life a dream of prosperity and safety for themselves and their family. Their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show sparked national intrigue in the Kim Sisters. They dominated the Las Vegas strip for decades with their exceptional singing, dancing, and instrumental abilities; charming the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and more.
As the daughters of famous Korean singer Lee Nan-young and popular conductor Kim Hae-song, it was almost inevitable that their daughters would have some form of musicality in their future. Their group was formed with sisters Sook-ja (Sue), Ai-ja (Aija), and Min-ja (Mia) during the Korean War. Kim Hae-song had been captured, and there were still three brothers to take care of as well. The Kim Sisters were able to play a variety of instruments, sing, and dance, and their brother later formed their own group, The Kim Brothers.
The Kim Sisters popularity grew amongst Americans stationed in South Korea, so much so that a producer from the U.S. flew to see them in 1958. Shortly after, they signed a contract to perform with the Thunderbird Hotel. Once finishing their performance there they moved on to the Stardust Hotel, wherein they were first invited to perform on the popular late-night show The Ed Sullivan Show. Later showcasing their talents a whopping twenty-one more times on that same show. In 1962, their cover of The Coasters “Charlie Brown” would send their song right up to a #6 spot on the Billboard charts.
The Kim Sisters showed off their musical abilities on the traditional Korean instrument, gaya-geum, dressed in hanbok while singing the beloved Korean song “Arirang.” This was the first time a large American audience was introduced to Korean culture.
They would continue dominating the Vegas Strip scene until 1967, when Mia got married. Sue and Aija joined with the brothers in The Kim Brothers and would continue on until the 1990s. While Mia and Sue continued to live in Las Vegas after the end of The Kim Sisters, Aija passed away from lung cancer in 1987. Mia later moved to Hungary with her husband in 2006 and continued performing all over the world. Sue still lives in Vegas with her husband, children, and grandchildren.
The Kim Sisters barely knew any English when they were performing, and yet, were still popular amongst viewers. It is important to recognize the life and work in order to understand how much it meant for them to work in America and how they really began to pave the way for Koreans. This was not just for those wishing to become famous, but also to show off the country as a viable place to live for those needing to leave South Korea. Sadly, they are often forgotten. The Kim Sisters were pioneers and began the expansion of Korean culture into foreign markets.
Check out http://www.thekimsisters.com/ to learn a little more about their past and present activities!
Have you heard of The Kim Sisters before? Would you want to hear more about music pre-K-pop era? Tell us in the comments!
Cover Image: The Kim Sisters
Written by Avery Souders