Hawaiian music icons honored at Lei of Stars

May. 3, 2014 | 1 Comment
Hula dancer Leilani Kupahu-Marino joined Bob Nelson and Nina Keali'iwahamana as they were performing his signature composition, "Hanalei Moon." SA Photo by John Berger

Hula dancer Leilani Kupahu-Marino joined Bob Nelson and Nina Keali’iwahamana as they performed his signature composition, “Hanalei Moon.” (Star-Advertiser photo by John Berger)

BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

Don Ho, Matthew Kane, ‘Iolani Luahini, Napua Stevens Priore and Kamaka Hawai’i were recognized for their contributions to the preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian music as the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame (HMHF) presented its 2014 Lei of Stars dinner in the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Thursday.

The speeches were short, the food was excellent, and the musical performances commemorating the honorees’ contributions were superb. Aaron Mahi, a 2012 inductee as a member of Ka Leo Hawaii, led the Kamehameha Alumni Glee Club in singing Hawaiian standards composed by his great-grand-uncle, Matthew Kane.

Young ukulele player Kalei Gamiao performed solo on his Kamaka ukulele while several members of the Kamaka family watched from a prime table. Gamiao said that although he does not have an endorsement deal with Kamaka, it is his favorite brand.

Other highlights included pianist/composer Bob Nelson and 2006 inductee Nina Keali’iwahamana sharing songs that Napua Stevens Poire had helped popularize in the 1940s and 1950s, then capping their set with Nelson’s musical signature, “Hanalei Moon.” Renowned chanter Ka’upena Wong, a 2008 HMHF inductee, joined the Kamauu ‘Ohana in a program of chant and hula honoring ‘Iolani Luahine.

And Ho was honored first by ukulele instrumentalist Taimane Gardner, who paid tribute to the man who gave her her first big break in show business, and then by Da Braddahs — Tony Silva’s full-costume impression of “Uncle Don” was chillingly accurate (Ho’s widow, Haumea Ho, said afterwards that Don had always enjoyed Silva’s impression of him).

Ka'upena Wong, performed an 'oli aloha to open the program and returned much later in a performance honoring 'Iolani Luahina. SA Photo by John Berger

Ka’upena Wong performed an ‘oli aloha to open the program and returned much later in a performance honoring ‘Iolani Luahine. (Star-Advertiser photo by John Berger)

James Roache portrayed a stereotypical kumu hula as the opening character in Da Buddahs' tribute to Don Ho. SA Photo by John Berger

James Roache portrayed a stereotypically flamboyant kumu hula as the opening character in Da Braddahs’ tribute to Don Ho. (Star-Advertiser photo by John Berger)

Tony Silva stopped the show with his fully costumed portrayal of Don Ho. SA Photo by John Berger

Tony Silva stopped the show with his fully costumed portrayal of Don Ho. (Star-Advertiser photo by John Berger)

Pre-show entertainment was provided by the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame Serenaders — Ku’uipo Kumukahi, Isaac Akuna, Joe Winchester and HMHF president James M.K. “Kimo” Stone — playing the traditional 20th century Hawaiian and hapa-haole standards that have been part of island culture for generations. When Lei of Stars emcee Kimo Kahoano agreed that Helen Desha Beamer’s “Kimo Hula” would be a great song to do, “but I don’t know the hula for that song,” the Serenaders switched it around and started playing the Mary Kawena Pukui/Irmgard Farden Aluli classic, “Boy From Laupahoehoe,” that has been Kahoano’s signature hula number for years.

And so Kahoano took off his jacket and danced — a crowd-pleaser as always — his bright yellow aloha shirt a striking contrast to the Serenaders’ pink and white aloha attire. Kahoano took time after the number to acknowledge the song’s two writers and also gave credit where it was due to the late Bill Kaiwa, who had been the first popularize the song (and who was known for years as “The Boy From Laupahoehoe,” even though he didn’t come from there).

Catching up with friends in the crowd — Eddie and Myrna Kamae, Rick Towill and Napua Grieg to name four — made “Lei of Stars” a memorable evening. It was certainly a big event in local entertainment.

Nina Keali'iwahamana, right, greeted 2007 HMHF inductee Eddie Kamae and his wife (and business partner), Myrna Kamae during a break in the program. SA Photo by John Berger

Nina Keali’iwahamana, right, greeted 2007 HMHF inductee Eddie Kamae and his wife and business partner, Myrna Kamae during a break in the program. (Star-Advertiser photo by John Berger)

Here’s a quick review of the honorees’ accomplishments:

» Don Ho (1930-2007): One of the best-known Hawaiian entertainers of the 20th century, Ho redefined public perceptions of Hawaiian music during his five-year engagement as the leader of Don Ho & the Aliis at Duke Kahanamoku’s in the International Market Place (1964-1969). Ho continued as a Waikiki showroom headliner and a solo artist until his death in 2007. He was also active as a mentor to aspiring artists. His best-known hits include “Tiny Bubbles,” “I’ll Remember You,” “Suck ‘Em Up,” “Nightlife” and “Who Is the Lolo (Who Stole My Pakalolo).” He received the Sidney Grayson Award (the precursor of the HARA Lifetime Achievement Award) in 1979.

» Matthew Ho‘onani Kane (1871-1920): Musician, composer and educator, Kane compositions include “Ka Makani Ka‘ilialoha,” “Moloka‘i Nui a Hina” and “‘Aina Kaulana,” better known as “Moloka‘i Waltz.” He co-wrote “Pua Carnation” with his Kamehameha Schools classmate Charles E. King.

» ‘Iolani Luahine (1915-1978): Luahine was considered the most esteemed hula dancer of her generation. She carried on the traditions taught her by her great-aunt and hanai mother Julia Keahi Luahine, and taught hula but did not consider herself a kumu hula. Luahine was featured in two documentary films on Hawaiian culture and several television programs.

» Napua Stevens Poire (1918-1990): Poire’s resume included credits as a singer, hula dancer, musician, teacher, radio and television host, producer and author. She was noted for her recordings of “Beyond the Reef,” “Hawaiian Hospitality,” “I Want to Learn to Speak Hawaiian,” “Pretty Red Hibiscus,” “May Day Is Lei Day in Hawaii” and “What Aloha Means.” She danced hula with the Coral Islanders in the 1950s and wrote “The Hawaiian Quilt,” an instruction guide and manual on the Hawaiian quilt.

» Kamaka Hawai‘i: Founded by Samuel Kaiali‘ili‘i Kamaka, Kamaka Hawaii has been a leading manufacturer of ukulele since 1916. Kamaka introduced the original oval-shaped “pineapple ukulele” in 1928. Traditions of exacting craftsmanship have been carried on by his sons, Samuel Kamaka Jr. and Frederick (now Fred Sr.), and their sons and grandsons.

The “2014 Lei of Stars” show will be rebroadcast on ‘Olelo 53 at 9 a.m. May 23, 6 p.m. May 24, 3:30 p.m. May 30 and 9 a.m. June 6.
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene formore than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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