National Cherry Blossom Festival® Opening Ceremony

Time: 5 – 6:30 PM
Location: The Warner Theatre – 513 13th Street, NW (map)
Cost: FREE; Advance ticketing required. See below for more information.

Kick-off the 2014 National Cherry Blossom Festival with world-class renowned entertainment as we welcome springtime to Washington, DC and celebrate the anniversary of the gift of trees from Japan to the United States. In this historic setting, enjoy spirited traditional and contemporary performances by the Howard University Step Team, Takaoki Onishi with Dimitri Dover, Kaori Kobayashi with the Mao Sone Quartet, Anna Saeki, Rimi Natsukawa and Judith Hill.

The event is free and open to the public, however, at this time, all tickets have been claimed. Walk-ins to the event will be accepted at 4:45 PM on the day of the event, if space is available due to no-shows, though there are no guarantees.

Performer Bios

Judith Hill
An emotive vocal stylist and virtuosic piano player, Judith Hill has long been on a path to capture the depth and breadth of her artistic vision. The Los Angeles native penned her first song at age four. Her journey has taken her all over the world, as a solo performer and alongside icons such as the late Michael Jackson.

Judith earned a degree in music composition at Biola University in southern California, where she wrote her first symphony. After graduation, she spent a year in Paris singing background vocals for French singer/songwriter Michel Polnareff.

When Judith returned home, she became a background vocalist for Michael Jackson and was also chosen to duet with him on the ballad “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” Judith sang at Michael Jackson’s public memorial in 2009.

Over the next few years, Judith refined her sound through experimentation and collaborations. In 2011, she traveled the world as a star of the Avon Believe World Tour. She also performed with Stevie Wonder in Asia and South America.

Judith created music for Spike Lee’s film Red Hook Summer, was a contestant on NBC’s The Voice, was featured in director Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet From Stardom, and is currently recording her debut solo album that will be released later this year!

Rimi Natsukawa
Rimi Natsukawa, an Okinawan pop singer, debuted in 1999 with her single “Yuubaeni Yurete.” In 2001, her third single, “Nada sou sou,” stayed on the charts in Japan for 116 consecutive weeks.

In 2006, Rimi sang on Andrea Bocelli’s album, Amore, in a duet, “Somos Novios,” in Spanish. Following the birth of her son in 2010, Rimi released an album, Nuchinugui Mimigusui, sharing her love of music with all children. In 2011, she released a new single, “Asu To Iu Higa.”

Rimi has performed in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and in competitions including NHK’s Kohaku Uta Gassen, where she won the prize for the best singer of the Japan Record Grand Prix. In 2013, Rimi was a guest vocalist on Sergio Mendez’ new album, Rendez-Vous.

Anna Saeki
Anna Saeki made her debut in 1987 as a tango singer. Shortly thereafter, she went to Argentina to record an album that received critical acclaim, and was instrumental to the rise of Latin music in Japan. Anna was also the lead vocalist for the band “Orquesta del Sol.”

In 2005, Anna was chosen as one of the top “100 Japanese people respected in the world” by Newsweek Japan. She received an invitation for the 25th La Falda Tango Festival in 2008 in Argentina, and was the first foreign artist chosen as one of the “20 people who contributed to Tango.” In 2009, Anna released a
folklore album after meeting Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa. She was invited to perform at El Salón Dorado in Casa de la Cultura in Buenos Aires in July 2010 to celebrate the Argentinean bicentennial, a first for a Japanese performer.

Today, Anna is recognized as a top artist in the tango world, and continues to perform at concerts and festivals all over the world.

Kaori Kobayashi
Kaori Kobayashi, born in 1981 in Kanagawa, Japan, grew up in Tokyo, and is a graduate of Senzokugakuen Music University’s Jazz Course. She began her music career in 2005 with her album Solar. She performs in music venues and jazz festivals all over Japan, and has appeared on many TV and radio programs.

In January 2011, Kaori received the “Most Beautiful Saxophonist in Asia” award from the Sax Society in Thailand. That February, she released her self-produced album SEVENth, which included self-composed and arranged works. In April, she become a lecturer for Senzokugakuen Music University’s Jazz Course. Then in May, she judged the NHK program School Live Show. Later that year, she performed at jazz festivals in Japan and had successful solo concert in Hong Kong’s STAR HALL. In December, she was Master of Ceremonies and performed at the College Jazz Festival.

In February 2013, Kaori released her eighth album, Urban Stream. Today, she plays in a self-formed girls’ rock band, an all-female saxophonists quartet, and a jazz trio.

Takaoki Onishi
A native of Tokyo, baritone Takaoki Onishi quickly is gaining recognition as one of the most promising singers of his generation. Takaoki earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Musashino Academy of Music in Tokyo. He received a full scholarship to the Juilliard School in New York City. He continues his training for an Artist Diploma in Opera Study at Juilliard. In the past year, he has won multiple awards and two grants from the Giulio Gari Foundation in New York.

In addition to opera, Takaoki devotes time to concert and song repertoire. At the International Meistersinger Akademie in Germany, he had the opportunity to study a variety of repertoire with their top conductors, teachers, and coaches.

Takaoki is accompanied by Dimitri Dover. Dimitri has performed throughout the U.S., Canada, and Austria, at venues such as Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, and Lincoln Center. He received his Master of Music and Graduate Performance Diploma in Piano Performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland. He holds a B.A. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University, where he performed extensively as a concerto soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician.

Mao Sone Quartet
Mao Sone, Trumpet/Piano/Vocals/Composition/Arranging
Born in 1991, Mao Sone started performing and composing at the age of 10. In 2009, he performed with the renowned jazz trio, WE3, in Japan. After their performance, they recorded the collaborative album, The Legends of Jazz Trio meets Mao. Mao received a full scholarship to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 2010. During his time at Berklee, he performed in jazz festivals around the world, and collaborated with musicians, such as saxophonist Joe Lovano.

Today, Mao primarily performs in Boston and Japan. He is known for his ability to cross musical boundaries, for his unique compositions, and for playing the trumpet and piano simultaneously.

Mei Inoue, Guitar, Composer
Born in 1991 in Kanagawa, Japan, Mei started playing piano and drums at a young age. At 15, influenced by Led Zeppelin, he started playing guitar. In high school, he joined the band of renowned Japanese Bassist Isao Suzuki and started his career as a professional guitarist.

Mei received a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music in 2011 and later that year, released his debut album, First Trane. In February 2012, he performed at Blue Note Tokyo with Japanese Jazz Trumpeter Terumasa Hino. In late 2013, he released his second album, Waiting for Sunrise, on Universal Music Japan. Mei currently resides in Boston and plays all over Japan with his band, the Mei Inoue Group.

Ren Yamamoto, Bass
Born in 1990 in San Diego, California, Ren began playing bass guitar when he was 14. Inspired by jazz legend Jaco Pastorius, he became immersed in jazz and R&B music. He enrolled in the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music in Japan and joined the Jazz Department in 2009. As a freshman, Ren got involved in the college’s big band, New Tide Jazz Orchestra (of Kunitachi College of Music). They performed with award-winning Japanese musician Sadao Watanabe six times over three years. As a solo bassist, Ren performed with Japanese guitarist Jun Kajiwara and toured in Kajiwara’s West Japan tour March 2012. He won a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and enrolled in 2012. At Berklee, he is concentrating on improvisation, writing, and arranging.

Hiro Kimura
, Drums
Born in 1988, Hiro started playing drums at 12 and played percussion in his middle and high school concert bands. In 2007, he entered Senzoku College of Music and moved to Tokyo. He started performing jazz, and studied percussion with renowned drummer Masahiko Osaka. Hiro joined Meiji University’s Big Sounds Society Orchestra in Toyko in 2004.

In 2011, Hiro graduated from Senzoku College of Music at the top of his class and received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music. In 2013, he joined Japanese Bassist Nori Shiota’s band SFKUank. Currently, he has his own band in Japan and plays in several others, including the Mao Sone Band.

Howard University Step Team
Howard University Step Team nurtures its members in the areas of stepping as a performance discipline, as well as academics, and social and personal cultivation. Utilizing Howard University’s four core values of leadership, excellence, truth, and service, the team represents Howard University at national and local step competitions. The team helps facilitate Howard’s goal of leadership in the global community through performance and community outreach.

Getting There

Metro: Metro Center, Orange/Blue/Red lines.
Use the Trip Planner

Contact Information

The Warner Theatre
P: 877.44.BLOOM (877.442.5666)

Supporting Sponsors
Media Partner
Contributing Sponsors

Sucampo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Special Thanks

Embassy of Japan
The Japan Foundation New York
Okinawan Convention & Visitors Bureau