Aloha `Oe to Jerry Byrd, Leina`ala Haili
Prominent traditional musicians Jerry Byrd, a fixture on the Hawaiian music scene since the 1970s when he relocated here, and Leina`ala Haili, a noted ha`i singer who favored the traditional old Hawaiian classics, both died in April in Honolulu. Both were in their 80s; both nurtured and encouraged the younger musicians they concertized with.
"Auntie Lei" was a source of knowledge and inspiration "not only from the music side, but in the way she lived life as a true Hawaiian" a member of Maunalua was quoted as saying. According to a recording engineer, she had perfect pitch. "She always told me to perform Hawaiian music to the highest degree, and to always be true to the songs." Haili once said she never had voice or music lessons, but taught herself to play `ukulele and guitar. Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame honoree Lena Machado was an early influence. Haili in her turn influenced such contemporary stars as Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom, who learned the ha`i style - called the feminine equivalent of falsetto singing - from her blood Auntie Lei. Gilliom's April 2002 show, which honored those who influenced her, was one of Auntie Lei's last appearances.
Jerry Byrd, legendary country music steel guitarist in the Nashville of the 1960s, was widely respected and acknowledged as one of the pioneers of steel guitar, in both the country and Hawaiian music genres. He performed with some of the greatest country headliners of his generation, including Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Burl Ives and Chet Atkins, and Dolly Parton.
When he moved to Hawai`i more than 30 years ago, "He changed his whole style of playing Nashville steel to Hawaiian steel" according to Melveen Leed, who worked with Byrd on many albums. "He loved Hawaiian music."
Byrd helped bring the steel guitar back into the Hawaiian mainstream through his work with local artists, performing with some and working with others. For a time, he appeared on the "Hawaii Calls" radio show and did gigs at the defunct Blue Dolphin nightclub at the Outrigger Waikiki hotel, where, as Byrd recalled in his autobiography, Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead showed up one night to ask if Byrd could give him steel guitar lessons.
Both will be truly missed.
Special thanks to the Honolulu Advertiser's Wayne Harada for his kokua.