One of 60 stories  in Voices of Aloha on Magical Maui



|“Ooooo oooooo ohoohohoo…” You hear it everywhere from our musicians, the rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” popularized by Judy Garland and made into practically a Hawaiian anthem by “Iz,” Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole, a man said to have had the voice of an angel.

Years ago, our family as visitors had the pleasure of hearing Iz, a victim of obesity known as a gentle giant, who has since passed away. We thought he was good, but we had no clue we were seeing a legend in the making.

These days, instrumentalists and vocalists are everywhere — in courtyards, restaurant lanai, even on the Baldwin Home lawn — and the same people in the know continually show up when one makes a special appearance. Many others, especially visitors and newcomers, often have no clue what they are missing.

Musicians and their instruments have a rich history.

The classical guitar, succeeding the drum, ipu and other instruments used by Hawaiians   appeared in the 1800s, brought by cowboys from Spain and Mexico imported to round up cattle for King Kamehameha III.

More than a century ago, the ukulele made its way to the islands when two Portuguese instrument makers sailed here to work on the sugar plantations.

Soon, even Liliuokalani, Queen of the Hawaiian nation and beloved composer of songs still sung today, took the “uke” up and helped popularize it.

A hundred years ago or so, the steel guitar came along, invented when a bit of metal fell on some guitar strings and produced a unique sound. Electric guitars debuted in the 1930s.

But it was the steel guitar that brought us the distinctive Hawaiian music popular in the 1950s and beyond; songs like “Little Grass Shack” and “Sweet Leilani” played on 450 radio stations on a program named “Hawaii Calls” from Waikiki. The show popularized the music on the Mainland.

.Utilizing  ki ho‘alu (meaning loosening of strings) distinguished the slack key guitar that has  become so popular today its players have won five  Grammies.

Some of the state’s best musicians call this place home and others come frequently.

George Kahumoku, a slack key master and Grammy winner who also keeps busy teaching school and planting taro, started as a child like many of his musical colleagues. He was not allowed to play family instruments, but he would sneak into the woods and strum when his parents weren’t paying attention after drinking potent, homemade “White Lightning.” (Venue: Wednesdays at Napili Kai Beach Resort.)

Keali‘i Reichel, a son of Lahaina, has won 31 Na Hoku Hanohano music awards, including four as Hawaii’s top male vocalist and four for best album. This singer, songwriter and kumu hula (hula teacher) whose dancers won at the Merrie Monarch festival helped pioneer the Hawaiian music renaissance. (Frequent venue: the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.)

Amy Hanaiali‘i Gilliom began singing soon after she was one year old, flourished in Baldwin High School music programs, and has become one of the few contemporary Hawaii musicians to study music in college. This Maui girl — whose great, great grandmother was a dancer who taught hula to Hollywood stars for movies with Hawaii themes — has made 11 albums. She is a big believer in technology, often twittering off stage.

Willie K, also Lahaina born, wows fans on Maui, Japan, China, Germany, Israel and the Mainland. When not strumming, he sings opera and mimics a dozen vocalists, including Willie Nelson and Diane Warwick when he sings “We Are The World.” (Venue: Kimo’s on many Sunday afternoons.)

Richard Ho‘opi‘i, a Grammy-winning falsetto singer who still lives in his native Kahakuloa on the North Shore, is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Folk Heritage Fellowship along with older brother Sol, his partner in the Ho‘opi‘i Brothers. Richard carries on since his older, legendary brother Sol passed away a few years ago. (Frequent venue: He often plays Hawaiian festivals.)

Henry Kapono, known as the “Wild Hawaiian,” is an award-winning singer/composer whose award shelf includes male vocalist of the year, song of the year and single of the year. (Venue: Dukes in Honokowai on the last Friday of the month.)

The power of Iz, who initially played with his Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau and sold a million copies of his first solo album, goes beyond “the rainbow song.” Iz eventually broke away from singing tourist songs and pioneered singing about things Hawaiian. Ironically, his most famous isn’t Hawaiian at all. Iz is gone, but others carry on the tradition of singing in Hawaiian.


Laura Blears

Surfer to Hostess with the Mostest

She posed surfing for Playboy  leaving little to the imagination. Her illustrious father, Lord James Blears (his real name, not a title) advised her to “go for it. She was the first female surfer in the world to win money in a surfing contest.

She was a Smirnoff vodka girl, posing in a white swimsuit on a surfboard for a promotional poster sent to every bar in the islands. She went on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” “Challenge of the Sexes” as well as it’s “Superstars,” competing with the likes of NFL football star Dick Butkus and others.

She appeared on “What’s My Line,” a popular network show in the 1980’s, whose panel members had to guess the profession of guests.

Nobody figured out she was a world- class surfer. She is Lahaina’s Laura Blears, formerly Laura Blears Chin and Laura Blears Cohn, who has been the “hostess with the mostest” at the popular Kimo’s on Front Street for the last 12 of her 31 years there.

“We were trained that you go out with your hands full to tables on the way out of the kitchen and in with your hands full back in,” she explained. The years there have flown by because she loves it so much, she said. Eventually, her wrists gave out with carpal tunnel. By now, she believes, she would have been in management if she had not damaged her wrists. “Managers work very hard. They bus tables, bring out dinners, carry the ice buckets along with their management duties,” she added.

Though Laura completed half of a 100-point training program, she gave it up knowing that her wrists would not handle the strain.

About a decade ago, she put away her server outfit and was named by then- General Manager Ron LaClergue as “Miss ALOHA,” assigned to rove around tables and chat with diners. She was so good she was moved to the hostess stand, where she has been ever since.

Despite the fact that she is over 60, once a surfer, almost always a surfer.” When I was growing up in Waikikwas a magical place,” she noted. “As a little girl, I used to surf against the boys, because there were no girl surfers.”

When not on boards, Laura, before she was ten, paddled in canoes and rode on catamarans. “My dad brought us over here in the early ’50s. We lived right next to the Duke’s statue on Waikiki Beach Kalakaua Avenue — now a tony shopping area with a beach (it used to be a beach with some shopping). “It was a two-way street. We were in the old Judge Steiner’s building.

“It had the very first surf shop in Hawaii underneath. Its owner was a friend and moviemaker. He made “Slippery When Wet,” one of the first surf movies,” Laura said.

“We started surfing when we were little kids. All the beach boys took us out. A few years later, I took my son, Dylan, on a surfboard before he was a year old. “The beach boys would take us surfing all the way out to the break.  We would stand up with them — even did tandem surfing on top of their shoulders while the man is surfing on the wave. I competed in that when I was 14 years old.

He surfed in competitions. We all surfed in competitions; it was just a way of life.” My dad would say, ‘You feel like doing something and it is fun, let’s go to do it!’ Encouraged to surf by her father, Lord James Blears, known to beach boys as Tally Ho, Laura entered her first competition at 12. She lost. To seek comfort, she remembers running to a beach towel shack and crying.

The famous seamstress there was named Take (pronounced Ta-Kay). She used to make all the surfers shorts. No other surf company made them to order.

Thirty-two years ago, surfing in Waikiki “I ended up being asked by surfing legend Fred Hemmings to enter my very first contest for money. My brother was a finalist in that very first pro contest,” she recalled. Laura was an alternate, but the next year she was a real competitor.

“It was billed as ‘325 men and Laura.’ That was the advertising. I beat one guy in my heat, but I never advanced. And I never ended up on the circuit,” she said.

Against women, however, she had at least 10 wins mostly gave way to parenting, working and surfing on Maui after she moved here with her first husband, Bonn Chin.

Laura’s surfing today is more limited. She still surfs when she can between hosting at Kimo’s and teaching water aerobics.


America Turns its Back on the Queen

OF ALL THE KINGS AND QUEENS in history, perhaps none loved America as much as Her Majesty Lydia Lili‘uokalani of the Kingdom of Hawaii. She said so in her writings. In the ultimate irony, it was America that had the tragic final say on her destiny.
Her Majesty was more than the deposed leader of the Hawaiian Islands. She was a world traveler unusual among monarchs, composer of songs still sung today, and a brilliant writer whose autobiography Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen depicts a lady unequalled in her day.

Her Majesty Lydia Lili‘uokalani was more than the deposed leader of the Hawaiian Islands. She was a world traveler unusual among monarchs, composer of songs still sung today, and a brilliant writer whose autobiography Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen depicts a lady unequalled in her day.









The lesson was proceeded by a dive offer what  visitors know as Black Rock.  Fun music–both Hawaiian and contemporary  and awesome burgers are on the  menu in a setting overlooking the beach. The event is a nice relaxing way to enjoy good music and food without waiting a long time for a table.  Your author is in frequent attendance.


MARCH  5–Dolphins in the sea can learn from dolphins in captivity, an audience at the annual Whales Tales at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua learned last week.   When an injured dolphin was placed in a pool for dolphins at a tourist attraction, it observed dolphins standing on their tales (which they do not normally do).  Observant, the injured dolphin soon learned the trick. 

Back in the ocean the newly educated dolphin began standing on its tale.  Not long after, nearby dolphins in the sea learned the trick too.  The only question is whether they can teach others around the world.  whale-tales-4-dolphin-1

Feb. 28–Leading researchers from all over the world offered new insights into whale behavior this week to a large audience at the annual Whales Tales event.whale-tales-1-1

Highlights: some 10,000 visitors this month are frolicking in the ocean.

Humpback whales are the target of small sharks called cookie cutters whose bites are to whales as cookie cutters are to dough. The sharks get a good meal when they take a few chunks from the whale’s hide. The whales, unhurt by the bites, get round while marks scars that have the look of smily faces.

Photos of whales often show 30 or more bite marks on a single whale. For more fascinating tales about whales click on the Maui Updates Link above.

Feb. 27–What do whales and women’s hemlines have in common? If you could guess you would be half right. Women’s hemlines go up and down. The sounds whales make in the form of songs is getting lower and lower, according to the latest research presented to nearly 200 people at the annual Whales Tales sponsored by Whale Trust Maui.