(1918 - )
From the ancient mele chant to the lively social music known by the pidgin term chalangalang, the human voice has always been at the center of Native Hawaiian music. One of the most celebrated vocal performers and recording artists of chalangalang styling in the second half of the 20th Century was and is Auntie Genoa Keawe.
|A beaming Auntie Genoa holds her Hall of Fame koa award after the Hawai`i Theatre induction ceremony and concert.|
Born in the Kaka`ako neighborhood of Honolulu, Genoa began her singing career at age 12, when she joined the choir of the Mormon Church. A year after graduating from eighth grade, she met and married her husband Edward and began her family of 12 children.
Her mother-in-law taught Genoa the Hawaiian language. Soon she was singing in both Hawaiian and English for military clubs, prior to World War II. Popular singer Alice Namakelua was of particular help to Genoa with her Hawaiian language phrasing and vocal style.
It was at this time that Genoa began singing with the Honolulu Rapid Transit musicians, and credits John K. Almeida for giving her her radio start. She heard him sing when she was 11, and met him in 1946. Almeida, who was broadcasting a show on KULA radio, asked for "anyone who could sing" to come to the station and perform. Genoa responded, and was asked to return again and again. In 1971, she hosted a banquet honoring her patron.
In 1946, Genoa recorded the first of over 140 singles on the "49th State" label. Among the songs was an English language version of Irmgard Aluli's signature composition "Puamana", entitled "Sea Breeze". With her groups "Genoa Keawe and her Hula Maids" and "Genoa Keawe and her Polynesians", she backed up other singers on many recordings. She moved on to record with Don McDiarmid Jr.'s company, "Hula Records".
Many of Auntie Genoa's most popular songs recorded from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, are now available on CDs. Among the most requested in Genoa's live performances are Lena Machado's "Kaulana O Hilo Hanakahi", Alice K. Namakelua's "Nani" and, of course, Genoa's signature song "Alika".
In 1966, she started her own record company, Genoa Keawe Records with her son, Gary Aiko and vocalist Joe Keawe, a relative of her husband's. It was in that year that she took her now-famous vocal styling to Japan, and has been invited to perform there many times since.
Genoa is probably best known for her Falsetto singing, which some consider more accurately described as "head voice". She is one of the very few female vocalists who come closest to sounding like the true Hawaiian falsetto, which dates from pre-contact chant practices. Falsetto use became popular with the introduction of European hymn singing and popular music, although its origins in the Islands are still shrouded in mystery and open to conjecture.
Genoa Keawe's importance to Hawaiian music is best described by Hawaiian ethnomusicologist Amy K. Stillman: "In addition to her unrivalled falsetto technique, bell-like yodeling, and her trademark ability to hold high notes for over two minutes, Genoa Keawe is particularly significant for her focus on presenting repertoire for modern hula, i.e., hula performed to westernized melodies and the accompaniment of western instruments such as guitar and `ukulele."
Operator of a hula studio in the Pauoa neighborhood of Honolulu for many years, "Auntie Genoa" has served as a resource for scores of Hawaiian musicians for over 50 years. Her warm and caring personality earned her her nickname early in her career.
Many accolades and awards have come to this celebrated singer of Hawaiian music. In the year 2000, Genoa Keawe was honored with the nation's highest honor in folk and traditional arts, the National Heritage Fellowship, presented in a Washington D. C. ceremony by the National Endowment for the Arts. She is the recipient of multiple Na Hoku Hanohano awards, the Hawaiian recording industry's equivalent of the "Grammy". In 1987 the King Kamehameha Hula Competition was dedicated to her, as was the 1998 Prince Lot Hula Festival.
Auntie Genoa, however, considers her greatest award her continued ability to sing, her "gift from God". She says "it's a gift I asked for... I wanted to be a singer, so I prayed every night, and thank God I still have it." She does, and shares her very special gift every week in performance with her group at the former Hawaiian Regent Hotel, now the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort.
Biographical notes courtesy of Genoa Keawe-Aiko and the National Heritage Fellowships awards program of the National Endowment for the Arts.