In February 1960, LIFE magazine introduced its readers to "an all-out nightclub hit" comprised of three young Korean women: Mia, Ai-ja, and Sook-ja Kim (l. to r. above), a.k.a., the Kim Sisters. "The act began 10 years ago when the girls were taught 'Ole Buttermilk Sky' and 'Candy and Cake' by U.S.troops in Korea," LIFE wrote.

K-Pop in the USA: The Fabulous Kim Sisters

These young Korean stars wowed U.S. audiences more than 50 years ago.

In February 1960, LIFE magazine introduced its readers to "an all-out nightclub hit" comprised of three young Korean women: Mia, Ai-ja, and Sook-ja Kim (l. to r. above), a.k.a., the Kim Sisters. "The act began 10 years ago when the girls were taught 'Ole Buttermilk Sky' and 'Candy and Cake' by U.S.troops in Korea," LIFE wrote. At the height of their fame, the Kim Sisters performed regularly in Vegas and in nightclubs around the world. They played the "Ed Sullivan Show" more than 20 times. They were not all sisters, however: Mia was a first cousin to Sook-ja and Ai-ja; when they began their career in Seoul in the 1950s, they exercised some creative license with their relationship, and the "Kim Sisters" were born. Robert Kelley At the height of their fame, the Kim Sisters performed regularly in Vegas and in nightclubs around the world. They played the "Ed Sullivan Show" more than 20 times. They were not all sisters, however: Mia was a first cousin to Sook-ja and Ai-ja; when they began their career in Seoul in the 1950s, they exercised some creative license with their relationship, and the "Kim Sisters" were born. When they first began performing songs in English, the three "sisters" had to learn the tunes by rote and sound out the words when singing — because none of them knew how to speak the language. (Pictured: The Kim Sisters perform in Chicago in 1960.) Robert Kelley When they first began performing songs in English, the three "sisters" had to learn the tunes by rote and sound out the words when singing — because none of them knew how to speak the language. (Pictured: The Kim Sisters perform in Chicago in 1960.) In 1959, "an ex-GI named Bob McMackin, who had heard them in Seoul, brought the Kims over [to the States]," LIFE reported. (Pictured: The Kim Sisters in Chicago in 1960.) Robert Kelley In 1959, "an ex-GI named Bob McMackin, who had heard them in Seoul, brought the Kims over [to the States]," LIFE reported. (Pictured: The Kim Sisters in Chicago in 1960.) The Kim Sisters, 1960. Robert Kelley The Kim Sisters, 1960. After several successful years, the three women went their separate ways: "In 1967," Mia told the Korea Times, years later, "all three of us got married.... My aunt was a very wise lady because she always told us, 'Don't get involved with a man, because if that happens, your career will be over.'" Robert W. Kelley After several successful years, the three women went their separate ways: "In 1967," Mia told the Korea Times, years later, "all three of us got married.... My aunt was a very wise lady because she always told us, 'Don't get involved with a man, because if that happens, your career will be over.'" After 1967, the act went on, but without Mia. The Kims — joined by their brothers— played nightclubs for a number of years. Ai-ja died in the 1980s of lung cancer, and the remaining "sisters," Mia (who married a Hungarian jazz musician) and Sook-ja, fell out of touch. (Pictured: The Kim Sisters, backstage in Chicago, 1960.) Robert Kelley After 1967, the act went on, but without Mia. The Kims — joined by their brothers— played nightclubs for a number of years. Ai-ja died in the 1980s of lung cancer, and the remaining "sisters," Mia (who married a Hungarian jazz musician) and Sook-ja, fell out of touch. (Pictured: The Kim Sisters, backstage in Chicago, 1960.) Today, Korean girl bands, like the retro doo-wop trio the Barberettes, cite the Kim Sisters as major influences and celebrate them as Korean pop-culture pioneers. (Pictured: Backstage in Chicago, 1960.) Robert Kelley Today, Korean girl bands, like the retro doo-wop trio the Barberettes, cite the Kim Sisters as major influences and celebrate them as Korean pop-culture pioneers. (Pictured: Backstage in Chicago, 1960.) The Kim Sisters, backstage in Chicago, 1960. Robert Kelley The Kim Sisters, backstage in Chicago, 1960. The Kim Sisters, backstage in Chicago, 1960. Robert Kelley The Kim Sisters, backstage in Chicago, 1960. The Kim Sisters take a break from performing and visit their manager's mother's farm in Illinois, 1960. Robert Kelley The Kim Sisters take a break from performing and visit their manager's mother's farm in Illinois, 1960. The Kim Sisters with their manager's family, Illinois, 1960. Robert Kelley The Kim Sisters with their manager's family, Illinois, 1960. The Kim Sisters, Illinois, 1960. Robert Kelley The Kim Sisters, Illinois, 1960. The Kim Sisters, Illinois, 1960. Robert Kelley The Kim Sisters, Illinois, 1960. The Kim Sisters, Illinois, 1960. Robert Kelley The Kim Sisters, Illinois, 1960. The Kim Sisters, Illinois, 1960. Robert W. Kelley The Kim Sisters, Illinois, 1960. Mia with one of the Kim Sisters' manager's nephews, Illinois, 1960. Robert Kelley Mia with one of the Kim Sisters' manager's nephews, Illinois, 1960. The Kim Sisters on stage, 1960. Robert Kelley The Kim Sisters on stage, 1960. Ai-ja Kim on stage, Chicago, 1960. Robert Kelley Ai-ja Kim on stage, Chicago, 1960. The Kim Sisters perform in Chicago in 1960. Robert W. Kelley The Kim Sisters perform in Chicago in 1960. The Kim Sisters perform in Chicago in 1960. Robert W. Kelley The Kim Sisters perform in Chicago in 1960. The Kim Sisters in Chicago in 1960. Robert W. Kelley The Kim Sisters in Chicago in 1960. "Split-sheathed singers, Mia (with guitar), Sook Ja (with clarinet) and Ai Ja (with saxophone) leap off the stage ..." — LIFE Magazine, 1960 Robert Kelley "Split-sheathed singers, Mia (with guitar), Sook Ja (with clarinet) and Ai Ja (with saxophone) leap off the stage ..." — LIFE Magazine, 1960 The Kim Sisters watch the TV show, "Queen for a Day," in Marengo, Ill., 1960. The trio was surprised to learn, LIFE wrote, that the show's winner "ruled nothing." Robert W. Kelley The Kim Sisters watch the TV show, "Queen for a Day," in Marengo, Ill., 1960. The trio was surprised to learn, LIFE wrote, that the show's winner "ruled nothing."