Sat, 13 December 2014
From the 1960s through the 1980s, four ladies dominated the Waikiki showroom scene: Melveen Leed, Carole Kai, Loyal Garner, and Nohelani Cypriano. Each held court in their respective hotel showrooms, and this can lead to everything from friendly rivalries to petty jealousies. But in the case of these four outstanding women with a tremendous sense of humor and hearts of gold (remember the Carole Kai Bed Race?), they were dear friends. This might not happen in New York City, L.A. or Las Vegas, but it can happen in the land of aloha.
In 1997 the four ladies joined forces for a series of events under the collective moniker Local Divas – an ironic name if ever there was one for these humble women were anything but divas. Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist Steven Mark best described the unique gifts each brought to the table: “Kai’s Vegas-influenced brassiness, Leed’s country-jazz stylings, Cypriano’s romantic lyricism and R&B, and Garner’s own hearty power.” Garner contributed her heart to the group in spades as leader/arranger as well which could not have been easy given that each was a lead vocalist before Divas was formed but would now have to sing harmony a la Diana Ross and The Supremes. But each would have their turn being Diana. Putting four superstars together could result in musical disaster, but for their efforts the group was awarded Entertainer of the Year honors at Johnny Kai’s Hawaii Music Awards in 2000. The group would release two CDs – one which mirrored the set list of their live shows, and another a holiday effort – before Loyal Garner’s untimely passing on November 15, 2001 of colon cancer. In Loyal’s honor and in the spirit of “the show must go on,” on December 19, 2001 the remaining three ladies went through with their “Local Diva’s Holiday” at the Hawai`i Ballroom of the Sheraton Waikiki. But the group could not endure their loss beyond this, and that holiday program shortly after their leader’s death would be the group’s last for more than a decade until their New Year’s Eve 2011 reunion at the Hilton Hawaiian Village – another star-studded tribute to Loyal.
Oddly, Local Divas’ Christmas was released on January 1, 1998 – or after the holidays. But it is a joy-filled romp featuring all four singers in the lead and hampered only by its 80s-flavored arrangements (a remnant of trying to do a Waikiki showroom extravaganza with the least musicians possible, which in that era usually meant a bevy of keyboards, in this case handled ably but excessively by David Kauahikaua). In selecting songs for this set, with your indulgence I focused heavily on Loyal’s contributions to the CD because I believe they are among the album’s most poignant. I had the privilege and honor of opening for Loyal in 1994 at Carnegie Hall for the concert entitled “A Portrait of Hawai`i’s Music.” I spoke to her about her song “Island Feeling,” a huge local hit in Hawai`i a decade earlier. She wrote it for a nephew who went away to the mainland for college and couldn’t stand being away from home. Perhaps this is why when Loyal sings “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – a version which rivals those by Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald – I believe her with every fiber of my being.
Local Divas’ Christmas has been out of print on CD for nearly a decade and has never been re-released in the MP3 era. So I hope you have enjoyed hearing a few of the better selections from it again after so many years. Despite a sound stuck in another era, I believe it warrants its position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i if only because these are the only Christmas songs ever recorded by the incredible Loyal Garner.
Next time: #12 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…