Iwalani Kahalewai

Charlotte Iwalani Wilson Kahalewai was born January 25, 1934 in Waihe’e, Maui into a most musical family. She started singing at the age of 6 for U.S.O. shows and cut her entertaining teeth at Lani Wai and Wailuku Gardens before becoming a regular on the Hawaii Calls radio programs and studio recordings. Through the 1950’s Iwalani performed at the Top Of The Isle and the Waikiki Biltmore and in 1958 was hired as featured singer and dancer with Alfred Apaka and the Hawaiian Village Serenaders in the Hawaiian Village’s Tapa Room. 

After Apaka’s untimely death in 1960, Iwalani sang at Don The Beachcombers and recorded with sister-in-law Haunani Kahalewai on her Decca and Capitol Records releases heard around the world. Through the 1960’s and 70’s she performed with Alice Fredlund’s Halekulani Girls and the Charles Pokipala Trio at the Halekulani Hotel, the Danny Kaleikini Show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel, the Moana Hotel and Queen’s Surf luaus, and with Tavana’s Polynesian Show at the Ala Moana Hotel, as well as continued frequent guest appearances on the Hawaii Calls radio show. 

Most recently, Auntie Iwa performed in the 1990’s Hawaii Calls revival radio program, The Sounds of Aloha, and she performed right up until her passing with the Royal Hawaiian Band as well as in numerous live Hawaii Calls tribute shows with show veterans Nina Keali’iwahamana, Boyce Rodrigues, and Gary Aiko. Her last recent recording was a duet with Jeff Teves on his recent release Lovely Sapphire Of The Tropics. 

Ironically, despite being featured as a soloist on numerous LP and CD releases by other artists, Iwalani only made one solo album: the 1960’s classic "An Hawaiian Happening," which brought Hawaiian music into a new era courtesy of the progressive sounds of arranger-conductor Benny Saks.  This beautiful LP has recently been digitally remastered and reissued and is essential listening for anyone interested in hearing Auntie Iwa’s unique way with a song and a snapshot of the blend of rock, jazz, Latin, and other influences that pervaded Hawaiian music in the 1960’s. 

To honor Auntie Iwa, I put together a set of some of Iwalani’s finest outings – most no longer commercially available.  The set opens with Iwalani’s first ever commercial recording – “Blue Mu’umu’u” – with the Hawaii Calls Orchestra and Chorus and continues with an excerpt of a very rare radio broadcast from the Tapa Room with the Hawaiian Village Serenaders – including a duet with Alfred Apaka.  There are two selections from Iwalani’s An Hawaiian Happening album.  (Listen for one of the hallmarks of Benny Saks’ 1960’s arrangements – a full drum kit!)  Then Iwalani leads the Halekulani Girls on the sad and poignant “Mi Nei” from their out-of-print 1977 LP "Dreams of Old Hawaii."  And the set closes with two out-of-print recordings Iwalani made with Hawaii Calls veterans Gary Aiko, Nina Keali’iwahamana, and Mahi Beamer in the 1990s. 

Hawai’i lost this most beloved and recognizable voice on August 4, 2009. I hope this musical tribute brings back fond memories for those of you who knew and loved Auntie Iwa.

Direct download: A_Tribute_to_Iwalani_Kahalewai.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:32pm EDT