George Paoa

George Paoa was born on August 17, 1934 in Honolulu. He got his start on a radio station KGMB contest program, the Listerine Toothpaste Amateur Hour, on which surprisingly he only took second place. But from this humble beginning Paoa went on to great renown performing with Kui Lee and with Johnny Spencer and His Kona Coasters both in Hawai`i and on the mainland in Reno, Tahoe, and Las Vegas. When he returned from the mainland, he performed with Don Ho at the original Honey’s Tavern in Kane`ohe. By 1966 Paoa had moved to Maui where he eventually performed at the Ka`anapali Beach Hotel, the Maui Hilton, the Royal Lahaina, and the Maui Prince. Finally, in the late 1990s, he moved to Lana`i where he held court nightly at the Lodge at Koele until his passing in 2000.

Paoa was a percussionist and a pianist with a wonderful jazz sensibility in his playing. But, more than this, he was known for his beautiful and lush baritone voice. Although Paoa recorded at least a half dozen LPs throughout his lengthy career, as is often the case with Hawaiian music (and, in particular, the artists featured at Ho`olohe Hou) there remains only one George Paoa album in print in any medium in the digital era. On the occasion of George Paoa’s birthday, here are two cuts from two of Paoa’s finest albums that are no longer available.

“There Goes Kealoha” – a once popular ­hapa-haole number written by Liko Johnston and Howard Zeugner, now seldom heard except when revived by the Brothers Cazimero (purely for its comic value, especially when accompanied by the hula of Leina`ala Heine Kalama) – is performed here by Paoa from his first solo LP, the 1960 Sounds of Hawaii release To Make You Love Me, Ku`uipo.

“Hula Heaven” is from a 1970s live recording in which Hula Records captured George and his trio at the Maui Hilton. From this recording you can hear the influences of the jazz piano trio (such as those led by Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, or the one Tommy Flanagan led to back singer Ella Fitzgerald) on George’s style. The trio here is rounded out by two mainstays of the Hawaiian music scene, Lee Pacheco and Johnny Costello. Interestingly, however, we have no idea who is playing which instruments since everybody in the band could handle all of the instruments heard here. The high falsetto voice clearly belongs to Costello formerly of the vocal groups led by Richard Kauhi and Buddy Fo. And Lee Pacheco was also an accomplished songwriter who – under his pen name Leroy Melandre – wrote the still extremely popular “Malia, My Tita.”

George Paoa passed away on a vacation cruise on April 24, 2000. I encourage you to learn more about this amazing musician by viewing a wonderful 20-minute interview with Paoa which has been graciously archived by `Ulu`ulu, the official Hawai`i state archive for moving images.

Direct download: George_Paoa.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:13am EST