Fri, 31 October 2014
On October 31, 2007, the Keawe `ohana celebrated the birthday of their mother/grandmother/great-grandmother/great-great-grandmother, Genoa Keawe, in a very public way – with a celebration concert hosted by the Pakele Live concert series at the Ala Moana Hotel. The all-star concert went seemingly forever (although it was probably only three hours) and featured such Genoa Keawe acolytes as Kawika Trask, Ainsley Halemanu, Jeff Teves, sisters Ethylyne and Mona Teves, Nickie Hines, and Melveen Leed. It also featured Aunty Genoa’s band of nearly 20 years with son Gary Aiko, niece Momi Kahawaiola`a, granddaughter Pomaika`i Keawe Lyman, and their friend-as-close-as-family Alan Akaka. Of course, such a celebration would not be proper unless the guest of honor herself took the mic. And when she finally did, with the opening strains of “Paoakalani,” Genoa Keawe had officially conquered every recording and performance medium in the history of entertainment: From the 78 rpm record through the 45 rpm record and eventually the long-playing (or LP) record, from the open reel tape to the 8-track tape to the cassette tape, television and film (we didn’t even talk about her appearances on The Lucky Luck Show or her film soundtrack work), to such digital media as the CD and the MP3, and – because Pakele Live was broadcast live around the world via the Internet – the World Wide Web, by her 89th birthday – and a career spanning more than 60 years – Genoa Keawe had officially done it all.
And so she could leave this life knowing there was nothing left to conquer.
As emcee Billy V says in announcing the birthday girl, fans around the world were waiting with bated breath for a glimpse at and listen to the First Lady of Hawaiian Music. So that you have some context for how ardent a Genoa Keawe fan can be, it was 1am on the East Coast where I was await her appearance, 5am in Great Britain where – yes! – they were waiting for her there too. And she delivered. Although you only hear an excerpt from her set here, the highlight here is “Lei Aloha, Lei Makamae,” on which Gary Aiko duets with Melveen Leed – until, that is, Melveen no longer can reach those high notes and turns over the reins to Aunty Genoa who can not only still hit “G” above “high C,” but hold it for eight beats at the slowest of tempos. And then there is the closing number, her signature song, the song every audience expects, the song with which we opened this tribute a week ago, “`Alika,” on which Aunty Genoa is joined again by Melveen Leed and her granddaughter, Pomaika`i.
Emcee Billy V doesn’t need to tell us that the crowd is on its feet. Never did Aunty Genoa perform that this didn’t happen. But the poignant moment comes when somebody – perhaps even someone on stage – says loudly for the microphones to pick up for all the world to hear, “God bless you, Aunty Genoa.” And it resounded in such a way that it was as if the entire Hawaiian music-loving world said it in unison. I hope she heard it. And I pray she believed it.
God bless you, Aunty Genoa. We love you, aunty. And we always will.
In loving remembrance of Genoa Leilani Adolpho Keawe
(October 31, 1918 -- February 25, 2008)