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One of the first missionaries of Western rhythm & blues in Japan, Takako Hirasawa, the sole member of Double, earned the title of "R&B Queen" in her home country. The alias, strange for a solo artist, has, in fact, a tragic explanation, as the band started off as a duo, formed by Takako together with her younger sister Sachiko Hirasawa, who died before the release of their debut album. The Hirasawa sisters grew up in Niigata and had studied classical piano as kids, but were exposed to American R&B after their older sister (there were three siblings) has spent some time in the U.S. and brought back a load of CDs. The sound of TLC and Mary J. Blige prompted them to start their own band, and in 1997 the duo began performing in local clubs as Double, soon receiving an offer from the Tokyo label For Life Records, which got them a yearlong regular gig at the Yokota Air Base of the U.S. Air Force (they were the first Japanese artists in 27 years to play the base). In 1998, Double released their debut single, "For Me," which was featured in the TV mini-series Tsumetai Tsuki and followed by three more singles that predated the album Crystal (1999), which scored number two on the Oricon charts.

However, in 1999 Sachiko Hirasawa suddenly died of a brain hemorrhage. Takako stopped recording and even listening to music -- but she returned in a year, retaining the name Double as a tribute to her sister. Her first solo single was "U," delivered in 2000, when Double also put out an eponymous album, re-released in English in 2001, followed by Vision (2002) and Wonderful (2003), both later issued in remixed versions, like Crystal before them. Her jazz project Life Is Beautiful was released in 2004, but after that Double hit a period of inactivity. She issued only two singles over the course of 2005-2006, but made a comeback in 2007 with the album Reflex and the DJ side project Virgin Mix, out under the name DJ Lilly a.k.a. Double. The remixed version of Reflex appeared in 2007 as well, and in 2008 the compilations 10 Years Best We R&B and The Best Collaborations -- the latter featuring DJ Kaori, Ai, Heartsdales, and Zeebra -- both rose to number two on the charts. ~ Alexey Eremenko

Niigata, Japan

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