An update on past news

Saturday, October 13, 2001

1 of Liz Damon’s
backup singers is still
singing, and 1 gave it up

by Lisa Asato.

Question: What ever happened to Cissi Blanchard and Nani Sera, singer-dancers for Liz Damon's Orient Express?

Answer: "We were the bookends, one on each side; Liz was in the middle," recalls Cissi Yamamura, now 50 and singing with a woman's chorus. The other "bookend," Nani Lee, who married Orient Express drummer Duke Lee in 1975, meanwhile says, "I don't even sing at all, nothing at all."

The two Kaimuki High School classmates performed with the Orient Express for two years in the early '70s. "Like a blink of an eye," said Lee, who works at United Airlines doing administrative support work for aircraft maintenance.

Lee said previous singers might be better known for cutting the group's 1970 national hit "1900 Yesterday." "It was really their efforts that put them on the map," Lee said. "Cissi and I were there for the shortest period of time, I think."

After leaving Orient Express, Yamamura's professional career continued with various groups, including rock band Cherry Blend and Top 40 group Jubilation. Christian music followed, and both Yamamura and Lee sang for a local gospel group for more than a decade.

Yamamura now sings lead for Island Fever, a quartet spun off from another of her singing endeavors, Na Leo Lani, which is the Hawaii chapter of Sweet Adelines International. The a cappella group performs barbershop songs, hits from the 1930s to 1950s and Hawaiian tunes for weddings, fund-raisers and more. "I used to laugh at barbershop. Not anymore," said Yamamura. "It's the most difficult type of music you'll ever do. It's real disciplined. You need to stay on pitch because there are no instruments."

Yamamura has found new satisfactions in life. "I think my life is much different spiritually that now I'm serving the Lord, and it's so much richer. I have an abundant life through Christ right now," said Yamamura, who holds weekly church gatherings at the Kaneohe home she shares with husband Mark.

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