The Kim Sisters - The Original K-Pop Stars
60 years before Korean pop music took over the United States charts, there was the Kim Sisters, the first Korean group to make it big in America. The now iconic threesome was made up of sisters Kim Sook-ja (Sue) and Kim Ai-ja, and their cousin, turned adopted sister, Kim Min-ja (Mia). As the daughters of well-known composer Kim Hai-Song and renowned Korean singer Lee Nan-Young, the young girls were destined for musical stardom.
Equipped with just a few American records that she had purchased on the black market, their mother began training the girls in the art of entertainment. Before ever understanding a word of English, they were phonetically learning the lyrics to American songs and memorizing them by sound. The girls quickly became rising stars by performing around United States military camps in Korea. American soldiers were so impressed that word of their talents began to spread back to the United States and top music producer, Tom Ball, who eventually flew to Korea to watch them perform.
They were offered a short, four-week contract at the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas and were told they had this short amount of time to prove they could sell out a show. At the time of their arrival in Las Vegas, the girls were just teenagers and though they were full of excitement they were also carrying the pressure of earning enough money to send back to their family in war-torn Korea.
Not only did the girls effortlessly draw a crowd, but their stardom expanded well beyond the original four weeks they were promised. Their lively personalities and musical abilities were new and unique to the Las Vegas scene, and they quickly took the city by storm when offered the chance to perform six nights a week at the Stardust Hotel. They had a distinctive ability to put on a performance that not only highlighted their harmonious singing voices but also had major personality and 13 different instruments in rotation.
They went on to perform in Las Vegas for the next 35 years with sold-out shows at The Stardust
Hotel, the Las Vegas Hilton, and the Holiday Casino. Beyond their acclaimed career in Las Vegas, they were eventually celebrated in notable magazines like Newsweek and Life; they also went on to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show 22 times, which has now been recorded as the most performances in the show’s history. The Kim Sisters undoubtedly paved the way for the popular k-pop music genre and have now been recognized as the first ever Asian group to record music in the United States.
Though their sweet-sounding voices are still recognized, their compassion and love for their family is equally as impressive. Their performances may have been a fun night for those in the audience, but for their family back home and their children today, the Kim Sisters were able to achieve and pass down the American dream.
Photos courtesy of UNLV Special Collections and Archives.