Misora Hibari is said to be the main figure behind the postwar popularization of enka
music. She was born Kato Kazue in Yokohama
on May 29, 1937
, and was an accomplished singer by the age of 7. In 1949, at the age of 12, she made her film debut in Kanashiki Kuchibue
("Sad Whistle"), which turned her into a nationwide sensation and earned her a spot in Life
(looking much like an Asian version of Shirley Temple
). Some music scholars argue that her singing was what the Japanese
were looking for in the desolate postwar years: whatever the case, she had struck a chord in people's hearts. By 1955, she was playing in the Kabukiza
, the most renowned theater in the country, and singing a variety of songs, including Latin, Hawaiian, and American styles.
In the 1960's, with her career on an elongated high, she stopped singing foreign-style music, choosing to concentrate on enka—perhaps a reflection of the growing Japanese national spirit. In all, she recorded over 1,400 songs on about as many different albums and singles, making her one of the world's most prolific musicians in modern times. Her most famous songs are 川の流れのように Kawa no nagare no yo ni "Like the Flow of the River" (in a 1997 NHK poll, voted greatest Japanese song of all time, with 17 million respondents), 四季の歌 Shiki no uta "Song of the Four Seasons," and お祭りマンボ Omatsuri Mambo "Festival Mambo."
She married actor Kobayashi Akira in 1962 and divorced him two years later, remaining single until her death in June 1989, while still at the plateau of her career. She received the National Medal of Honor shortly after her death, and in 1997, she appeared on a series of postage stamps alongside fellow honorees Tezuka Osamu and Ishihara Yujiro.
Her stage name literally means "lark of the beautiful sky"—fitting for a woman who was able to lift the collective spirits of a nation through one of its darkest hours.