Our staff is mourning the loss of Dr. Franklin Odo, the founding director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and a pioneering scholar in Asian American studies. He passed away on September 28.
Odo was a longtime friend of our Center and a frequent collaborator, dating back to his time as commission chair of the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, helping with the Hawai‘i state program of the 1989 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. In 2010, through his initiative and under his leadership, the Festival produced Asian Pacific Americans: Local Lives, Global Ties, which researched, documented, and presented the cultural heritage of D.C.-area Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
In 2015, he donated a collection of materials related to his research on holehole bushi songs—folk songs by Japanese immigrants working Hawaiian sugar cane fields—to the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives. Those recordings and documents, collected by Japanese American music teacher Harry Urata, contributed to the recovery and preservation of the art—not just in archives but in performance as well. Working closely with Urata over several decades, Odo eventually shared this history in his book Voices from the Canefields: Folksongs from Japanese Immigrant Workers in Hawai‘i (Oxford University Press, 2013).
He leaves a lasting legacy, and he will be missed. Read more about Odo’s life and work from the Asian Pacific American Center.