Cha Thompson

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Showbiz Masterminds

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Showbiz Masterminds

 

The glamour of the entertainment industry can be alluring, but with its heavy business risks, there are no guarantees of success. Polynesian entertainment company co-owner Cha Thompson; the late radio DJ and concert promoter Tom Moffatt; and former nightclub owner Jack Cione are three “showbiz masterminds” who excelled at entertaining local audiences. Revisit these conversations about their journeys, lessons learned and passion for showbiz.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Showbiz Masterminds:

 

Cha Thompson – Authenticity in Entertaining

 

Tom Moffatt – Elvis’s Hat

 

Tom Moffatt – Elvis at Honolulu Stadium

 

Jack Cione – How to Hire a Naked Waiter

 

Showbiz Masterminds Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And if you said you were from Hawaiʻi, that sold.  You almost didn’t have to do anything.  And so, we started traveling around the world.  And when we came home, people wanted shows.  We actually had to decide: We gotta get off the stage, you cannot be producer, director, business manager, choreographer, which is what we did. And oh, god; try do the books. Hello.

 

I just had them open their kimonos to add a little more to the show.

 

And what were the skaters wearing?

 

The skaters wore clothes, but the three girls that stood there on the ice—

 

Oh; I see.

 

They were the nudes on ice.  [CHUCKLE]  That was my hook.  Every show needs a hook, you know.

 

Yeah; because you’re a marketer, too.

 

Yes.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or the cost was too high in some way?

 

No; I’ve never felt that way.  I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

The world of bright lights and big stages holds a certain allure.  But only a few carve out a successful business in the grueling entertainment world.  Meet three of Hawaiʻi’s showbiz masterminds, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wicox.  Show business can be fun, exciting, and profitable.  But there are no guarantees.  Yet, Polynesian entertainment company co-owner Cha Thompson, nightclub owner Jack Cione, and the late radio deejay turned concert promoter Tom Moffatt excelled in this risky industry.   These three people are very different from each other.  In common, they all trusted their artistic tastes and business instincts to entertain Hawaiʻi for decades.

 

First, we turn to our 2008 conversation with Cha Thompson.  In the early 70s, she was a nineteen-year-old hula dancer traveling the world for performances, when she was suddenly put in charge of a popular Polynesian dance group.  Cha Thompson and her husband Jack soon founded Tihati Productions, now one of the largest and longest-running entertainment companies in Hawaiʻi.

 

I was with the original Puka Puka Otea group that Elaine Frisbie from Rarotonga ran.  And we were the only one in the State to do Polynesian everything.  And then, when she was leaving, I was her lead dancer, and she simply said: Here, take it and run.  And at nineteen, excuse me, I knew nothing about business.  And so, you know, when I married my husband, I was working in medical records at Queen’s Medical Center, and he was working in reservations at Hawaiian Airlines.  And people started calling us.  And I’m telling you, it was so successful, because tourism at the time was the thing, and everybody wanted a show.

 

What year was that?  What general decade?

 

1969, ’70.  And if you said you were from Hawaiʻi, that sold.  You almost didn’t have to do anything.  And so, we started traveling around the world.  And when we came home, people wanted shows.  We actually had to decide: We gotta get off the stage, you cannot be producer, director, business manager, choreographer, which is what we did. And oh, god; try do the books. Hello.

 

You danced.  What did your husband do?

 

He was the emcee.  And his very first thing to do was, he came to Canada when I was with the World’s Fair, and I was a dancer.  And he was one of the few Polynesians who could speak English.  So, when our emcee got sick, he said: Give it to Thompson.  And he said: I’m not an entertainer.  You know. And in fact, just before we left, he said: I’m part-Samoan, surely I can learn the knife dance.  I always thought he was too handsome to be a knife dancer. He didn’t look as wild and savage. But he learned it, and became a knife dancer.  Terrible knife dancer in the beginning; can’t hold a candle next to my son, who’s a world title holder.  But that’s how we started.  We had to get off stage, and get a good attorney, get a great CPA, and we gave up our careers to run the business.

 

You were singled out to be the one to take over the dancing troupe.

 

Yes.

 

Why?

 

You know, I wonder if because shucks, I was always vocal. I always had an opinion.  I wonder.  And many of the Polynesian girls were more reserved.  I always had the plan, I always had the plan.

 

And it was a good plan?

 

It was a good plan.  I think survival mode; always in a survival mode, you know.  And I think that’s what my children detect. Like: Mom, oh.  You know, always plan for tomorrow, save, you know, the rainy day is coming, and always dress well if you get into an accident and make sure you have clean underwear.  [CHUCKLE] And you know, the house must be clean. Visitors will come, they’ll judge us. I always felt like I was being judged; always.  People started taking us seriously when we would sit on business boards, or when we contributed in a business fashion.  But yeah, I mean, you’re Polynesian; surely you can’t be too smart. And entertainment; heavens, you must fool around you must do drugs.  Well, we did neither, and it paid off.  It paid off for us.

 

I sense you’re a good negotiator.  I’m trying to figure out what your style is.

 

[CHUCKLE]  It’s the Pake blood, Leslie; it’s the Chinese blood.  And the funny thing about it is, in entertainment, they will say: Oh, come and put on a show, or come and dance for us, and you can eat all you want, and you can drink.  I don’t drink.  I’m really thin; I don’t eat that much.  I need something else.  And money was the thing I needed.  But we had to earn it, we had to earn it.  They didn’t take us seriously, you know.

 

I know you brought in some major acts.

 

Yes.

 

And you developed major talent.

 

I think we’re known as a Polynesian revue.  And I don’t know that many people know that Tihati Productions has a vast department that brings in contemporary acts.  Like, we brought in Lionel Richie, and Cyndi Lauper. And we also do thematic parties. You know, we’ll prepare a whole Raiders of The Lost Ark, or Aloha in a volcano.  So, we do many things.  But I think they still think of me as the hula girl.  I mean, maybe, because then they’ll say: Oh, you know, you run that halau. And I say: No, I’m not a kumu, I don’t have a halau.  But Tihati Productions, they think of as a Polynesian revue.

 

You’ve had to really strike a balance between Polynesian authenticity and entertainment.  How have you worked that out?

 

I decided early on not to educate them, rather to entertain them, but to not sell myself and not give them what is real.  Any Tihati revue that you see will have real flowers, we’ll use real ti leaf skirts, we do authentic numbers and sing it in the native tongues.  You know, Tahitian, Samoan, Fijian, and all of my instructors are from those islands, Hawaiian.  So, I never felt that tourism was a threat to me.  In fact, when some people might have thought, Oh, that’s a sell-out, she’s worked in Waikīkīfor thirty-five years, you know, why isn’t she with us?, I would say, Well, tourism dollars sent all my kids to college, and I never felt that I wasn’t doing exactly what is me.  You know, I believe God gave me a gift in my roots and my heritage, and I share it. And lucky for me, tourism is Hawaiʻi’s number-one industry, and they’ll always need the hula girl, and the steel guitar, and the fire knife dancer.  And so, I think I’m here to stay.

 

With clear vision, quick reflexes, and a tenacious attitude, Cha Thompson and her husband Jack built a respected, long-running entertainment business.

 

Our next showbiz mastermind is also a longtime entrepreneur.  Jack Cione first gained notoriety in the 60s with live shows that were new to Honolulu at the time—nude entertainers and bottomless wait staff.  He was fired up to put on his own dance productions after seeing what he called a lousy show at the old Forbidden City Nightclub in Kakaʻako.  Here, from our conversation in 2014, Jack Cione remembers talking to the Forbidden City’s manager about organizing his first shows there.

 

I just told him how bad his show was, and he said: You want to do a show for me?  I said: Yeah, I’ll do a show for you, I have nothing to do.  He said,: How much is it gonna cost?  I said: I’ll do a show for you for nothing.  I just need something to do.  So, I did a show at the Forbidden City.  And I did two shows that made a lot of money.  And then, I did an ice show.  First time we had an ice show at the Forbidden City.  I called it Nudes on Ice.

 

So, you put in an ice skating rink?

 

Yeah; it was about twice the size of this table. Portable.  And two skater friends of mine from the mainland, I brought them over and said: Come and skate; a paid vacation, two weeks.  So, they came over.  And I had the Japanese girls, and I used them as showgirls.  And I talked three of the Japanese girls into going topless. I just had them open their kimonos to add a little more to the show.

 

And what were the skaters wearing?

 

The skaters wore clothes, but the three girls that stood there on the ice—

 

Oh; I see.

 

They were the nudes on ice.  [CHUCKLE]  That was my hook.  Every show needs a hook, you know.

 

Yeah; because you’re a marketer, too.

 

Yes.  [CHUCKLE]

 

So, now you’re really kinda dealing in a different kind of venue.

 

Right.  And there were no nightclubs having any nudity.  It was against the law.

 

Now, you already lied about your age, but now you’re talking about breaking the law.

 

Well, there were no laws.  Hawaiian dancers were topless.

 

Throughout history.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Right.  And so, what was the law?  What was the big deal?  So, the next show I did was complete nude show.  I brought burlesque in.  It wasn’t nude; it was just topless.  The girls then had to wear pasties and silk bras.  But it eventually evolved.  And every time we would do that, they would come and arrest me.

 

You’re saying this like this is, you know, just part of doing business.  And what was the charge?  Was it lewdness, open lewdness?

 

Lewd and lascivious conduct.

 

How did you feel about that?

 

Well, they’d arrest me, and I’d say: Excuse me, can I go to the restroom?  And I’d run in my office and I’d call the TV and the newspaper, and I’d stay there until they all got to the club.

 

So, you’re actually enjoying this.

 

Oh, loving it.  And the next morning, it was in the papers and it was on TV.

 

Was that part of being a showman?

 

Yes.  And business increased.  People would see that.  Oh, look, arrested, nude.  We gotta go see that [CHUCKLE] at Forbidden City.

 

And how did your new wife think about this?

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] she didn’t particularly like it. But it was making lots of money. And so, we opened that club, then we opened another one.  I ended up with twelve bars here.

 

And how many arrests?

 

Oh, gosh; I was arrested so many times, but not once conviction.

 

Because as you said, the laws hadn’t caught up with this business activity.

 

Right.  We went topless, then we went bottomless, and then we went totally nude.  We used to have a businessman’s lunch at The Dunes.

 

Back when three martinis were tax deductible; right?

 

Right.  And it was all businessmen.  And the show was a striptease show.  And these secretaries said: We’re so tired of coming with our boss; why don’t you put a naked man on stage for us?  And I just happened to say: Well, why don’t you get me a reservation for fifty ladies, and I’ll have a naked man for you.  That’s how it started.

 

And did you get a reservation for fifty?

 

Oh, gosh; they called about two weeks later.  They said: We have your fifty; you’re gonna have a naked man?  And I said: Yes.  Well, by the time the two weeks came, they had two hundred reservations.  That filled up my room.  [CHUCKLE]  They kept out my men customers.  The ladies took all the seats.

 

And did you have your naked waiter in line?

 

No.

 

No?

 

I didn’t have any.

 

How do you hire a naked waiter?

 

In those days, this was now 1973, and there were no such a thing as Chippendales and men strippers.  But I had a beach house in Haleiwa that I was renting to five surfers. And they were behind on their rent. So, I called them and said: You guys gotta pay the rent, or you’ve gotta come in and do me a favor.  They said: What is it?  I said: Well, you gotta come to The Dunes, Friday, and you’ve got to drop your pants on stage.  Oh, hell, yeah; we’ll do that.  Those women stayed all day.  We had the biggest bar business I ever did that afternoon.  They all drank, drank, and the surfers were enter—

 

Paraded.

 

Paraded, without their pants.  So, when I saw that, I thought: Oh, this is a goldmine. So, in a week’s time, I told the gals; I said: We’re gonna have waiters every day.

 

Instead of waitresses?

 

Instead of waitresses.

 

Because the women were the ones who were paying more money.

 

Yes.

 

As clients.

 

That’s how it happened.

 

And people keep coming back?

 

Oh; unreal.  Four hundred lunches, Monday through Friday.

 

I just sense that your guiding force is money and showbiz.  But you weren’t really into the flesh stuff of it all?

 

No.  Nightclub business is not an easy business.  But I stayed the straight line, and did it as a business.  I don’t drink; I never did drink.  [CHUCKLE]  And so, people would want to buy me a drink.  I said: You know, I’m in the business to sell this; I don’t drink it.

 

Jack Cione is a showbiz mastermind who went with his gut.  He knew what he liked, saw what worked, and gave people what they wanted.

 

So did our next guest.  Much has been said about the late Tom Moffatt’s career, first as a pioneering rock and roll radio deejay who introduced Hawaiʻi to Elvis Presley, then as a promoter of big name concerts, bringing everyone from The Eagles to Bruno Mars to the islands.  But let’s not forget Tom Moffatt’s work with local acts, especially during the Hawaiian music renaissance in the 1970s.  In our 2011 conversation, he recounts his work with Keola and Kapono Beamer on a recording that still strikes a chord here at home, and beyond.

 

I had just left radio.  I’d gone through a couple of owners at KPOI, and a third one was coming in, and I decided it was time to take a hiatus from radio.  So, I started my own record company.  And in the door walked Kapono Beamer one day, and said that they weren’t happy with wherever they were in recording.  And so, I got the two of them in, and talked to them about it.  And I said: Why don’t you guys go out and write, and let’s do a record together, an album.  So, I gave them some seed money to go out and write.  And Keola called me and said: I think I’ve got a song.  He was living up at Alewa Heights; I’ll never forget.  And I went up to Alewa Heights to hear the song. It was just when it was getting dusk, and that time of the evening when it was getting dark and the lights were coming on.  And he played for me Honolulu City Lights.  And I knew we had something.  So, that was my first recording endeavor, really on my own, and we came out with Honolulu City Lights.  Got Teddy Randazzo to help with the arrangements.

 

And for decades, I believe that was the highest-selling local album of all time. Is it still?

 

I don’t know, with Iz around.  [CHUCKLE]

 

And I think Kealii Reichel might have had a really big seller.

 

Oh, yes; yes.  But not that long ago, few years back, I think it was the Star Bulletin or the Advertiser, and Honolulu Magazine came out with a list of the best albums. Not best-selling, just the best albums, Hawaiʻi albums of all time.  And number one was Honolulu City Lights.  That was a thrill.  It’s still my favorite.  [CHUCKLE] I still love that song.

 

Me, too.  Actually, that came out when I was seeing a lot of friends off to college at the airport.

 

Yeah.

 

And it was always playing the airport then, and they were always crying. Those were the days where there was no security.

 

Yes.

 

You went to the gate to see people off.

 

You could go the gate with leis; yeah?

 

And local style, you didn’t bring just leis; you brought bentos, and food.

 

Yes; uh-huh.

 

And everybody had luaus, and that song was just playing—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–almost continuously.  And if it wasn’t somebody was asking for it to be played.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.  So, that’s such a cultural memory in Hawaiʻi.  That was your first, ever, recorded song.

 

Yes.  I’d done some singles and so forth.  Once, I put out an album, a trumpet album, but that was with other people involved. But this was the first one I did on my own, was Honolulu City Lights.  At the same time, I had a girl that worked for me just as I was leaving KPOI, and she said: You gotta go out and see this group in Aina Haina.

 

Randy Borden?

 

No.

 

No? Okay; who?

 

Country Comfort.

 

Country Comfort.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at the old—

 

At The Sty.

 

–M’s Ranch House?

 

No, this was at The Sty.  It wasn’t Aina Haina; it was beyond Aina Haina at The Sty.

 

Niu; that’s right.

 

Yeah.  And I heard these guys.  I went out and saw what was happening with the audience, and what they had going for them. And so, I finished off an album that—this was just before Honolulu City Lights, that my partner Irv Peninsky had started.  And I finished off the album, and we put it out together.  Then after that, I left out on my own.  But Country Comfort was one of my favorite albums.  I also did an album by The Surfers at that time called Shells, which I still think is one of the best Hawaiian albums ever produced.

 

Who were the local artists that you most enjoyed working with, and had the most success with?

 

Well, The Royal Drifters were one of the first local groups.  Dick Jensen, Robin Luke, Ronnie Diamond; they were all big singers in the 50s and early 60s. And we used them as often as possible on The Show of Stars at the Civic Auditorium, and whenever we could at the new arena.  Remember the first time that the Rolling Stones came to town, I put Dick Jensen on as the opening—Lance Curtis as the opening group, opening performer.

 

Lance Curtis.

 

And he danced like Michael Jackson.  This was before Michael Jackson.  He could dance.

 

You know, all of these enterprises, these artistic enterprises, and creative enterprises, to really be stable and to make a go of them, you have to be good at money.  You have to be good at restraint, and you have to be good at planning.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Did you have that all along, or did you have to learn that the hard way?

 

I’m still learning.  [CHUCKLE]  Still learning.  But I got good accountants around me.  Yeah.

 

And you’re not by nature prone to take unreasonable risk.

 

No.  We put quite a bit of money into some of the recording projects, but I believed in them, and they turned out okay.  Opening the Outrigger main showroom was kind of gamble.  It was a room that was sitting there was a convention room that they never used.  And Tommy Sands had come to Hawaiʻi, and was looking for a place to work.  And so, we opened that showroom.  And it’s been going ever since, after Tommy and I kinda drifted off.  And another time when the Beamers got going with Honolulu City Lights, there was another room that was sitting empty which we opened as the Reef Showroom at the Reef Hotel.  The Ocean Showroom at the Reef Hotel; that’s what we called it.  I put the Beamers in there.  That was kind of a gamble at the time, but I felt, you know, this record was happening.  So, we opened the showroom with Keola and Kapono Beamer, and Andy Bumatai as the opening comedian.  It was very successful.

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or the cost was too high in some way?

 

No; I’ve never felt that way.  I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

The concert promoter, the nightclub entrepreneur, and the Polynesian entertainment company co-owner; three masterminds in showbiz who trusted their tastes and instincts to entertain the islands.  After months of declining health, Tom Moffatt left us in 2016. What an honor to revisit his tremendous career.  And we thank Jack Cione and Cha Thompson for their savvy business stories.  Mahalo to you for joining is.  For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

You learn that from Kalihi.  Somebody puts you down and, ah, you know, I could do something better than they could.  I knew I could.  I don’t know how this is gonna sound, but what was important is, you gotta know how to beef, quite frankly.

 

You can beef?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You can beef?

 

Yeah, man.

 

You’re so elegant.

 

Yeah, man.  [CHUCKLE]  Or at least, I used to a lot.  And you know, when you come from a large family, nobody wants to beef with you. ‘Cause in the housing, families fight families.  I mean, I know it sounds imbecilical, but we did.

 

Did you beef boys, too?

 

Yeah.  Yeah, yeah. Most of the boys didn’t want to take me on, though.  I had brother, big brothers.

 

I mean, you were just a kid.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at nightclubs.

 

I did.

 

What time did you go to sleep?

 

Well, I changed my age.  I was twenty then.  ‘Cause I had a mustache at fourteen, I didn’t look like a high school student.  And I was making seventy-five dollars a week. That was good money.

 

And how did you keep up with school, when you were actually working in the city?

 

Yeah.  Well, I didn’t keep up with school.  That was the sad part.  I remember one day, a teacher said to me: Jackie Cioni, you’re gonna be a bum; you’re gonna be a bum if you don’t learn Algebra and English.  And I said: Get out of my face, honey; I make seventy-five bucks a week; what are you making?  Schoolteachers made thirty-five dollars a week.

 

Ouch!

 

I introduced Elvis Presley.  The place went crazy.  It was so exciting.

 

Really high decibels?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Shrieky.

 

Yeah.  And there he was, just a microphone, and a simple sound system.  But he held that audience.

 

And when had you met him before that?

 

Well, the day before, Ron Jacobs and I … Ron figured this one out.  Do something different.  And we’d me the Colonel, and we’d kinda hinted there might be something like this in the works.  And Don Tyler was one of our guys at KPOI, and we dressed him up to look like Elvis. Ron had his convertible, a Ford convertible, hardtop convertible, top went down.  And got a fellow who looked like Colonel Parker, and Ron driving. And we had it all planned.  I’m on the radio.  From the moment Elvis arrived, I’m on the radio playing nothing but Elvis records.  And I did this all morning, into the afternoon.  So, I kinda planted it; well, we understand that Elvis is heading for Kailua, for people to be out in the streets looking for Elvis, and drive down the streets, and people are screaming.  And we did this in different neighborhoods.

 

Did you get any fallout from it?

 

Well, we got back to the studio.  By then, I’d played Elvis for six straight hours, at least. It was mid-afternoon, and we were patting ourselves on the back.  And we get the message from our news guy that Colonel Parker wants to see you guys downstairs, immediately.

 

Dun-da-dun-da.

 

And we looked at each other.  We wanted to escape.  So, we went downstairs and there’s guards at the elevator.  We went down one floor.  And they took us into Colonel Parker’s suite.  We didn’t know what to expect.  Colonel said: Boys, that was a pretty good promotion you did.  Oh, my gosh!  Oh, and here’s Elvis.  In walked Elvis.  And that’s the first time I’d met Elvis.  [CHUCKLE]

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

[END]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Celebrating Moms

 

Original air date: Tues., June 8, 2012

 

In this special edition, we look back at some of the best stories about mothers from previous Long Story Short guests: entertainers Emma Veary, Keola Beamer and Mihana Souza; business leaders Cha Thompson and Christine Camp; and educator Candy Suiso.

 

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Transcript

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we celebrate moms – mothers whose children went on to sing, lead, teach and ultimately pass on the lessons they learned from their mothers. We’ll look back on conversations with entertainers Emma Veary, Mihana Souza and Keola Beamer; business leaders Cha Thompson and Christine Camp; and educator Candy Suiso. Stories of mothers – next on Long Story Short.

 

We begin with a story from an elegant singer who was nicknamed “Hawaii’s Golden Voice” and graced Waikiki’s stages in the ‘70s. Today, Emma Veary remains a treasure of Hawaiian music. Emma’s strongest influence was her late mother, Nana Veary. Nana loved everyone, from the rich and famous, to the homeless and downtrodden. She dedicated her life to a spiritual journey, one that took her from her traditional Hawaiian upbringing, to Christian Pentecostalism and Zen Buddhism. Along the way, Nana’s children, including Emma, were there by her side.

 

We know Nana Veary as this renowned spiritualist whom people came from far and wide to consult and see, and spend time with.

 

Yes. Right.

 

What was she like as a mom, starting out when you were a little baby?

 

I mean, she was just our mom; that was it. And interestingly enough, when we grew old enough, we chose to go on her spiritual path with her. And that’s what made life most interesting. Because whatever she was studying, we were studying. And we were chanting in Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan or whatever she was doing; we were doing it. So we were living her life, her book, with her; which I still do.

 

For all of her life, she was in tuned spiritually, and went on these journeys for truth.  

 

Yes. Right.

 

How did you and your brother and sister fit in?

 

Well, again, we all joined emotionally, spiritually with her in her journey, and she’d come home and tell us what was happening with her. And we’d all exchange whatever was happening with us. And we enjoyed learning about the other parts of the world, and what their belief system was. And whenever she went anywhere, she always came back with all these wonderful tales to tell us.

 

Now, so you’re a grown up yourself, and your mom’s on this spiritual odyssey.

 

Right.

 

You didn’t think, H-m, how come only my mom is out there—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—in India searching for truth?  

 

We were sharing our mother since we were kids. And we enjoyed sharing her with people. We felt so blessed to have her that we thought, Oh, let’s share her with everyone. You know? And that was our attitude about it, share her with whatever. And I know she was lecturing at one point at UCLA. And this young student got up in the auditorium and he said, Excuse me, Mrs. Veary—trying to be smart like all students are he said, I understand the Hawaiian are a dying race. And she says, Let me come back to that after I finish my lecture. Okay. After the lecture, she said, All right, young man, I’ll answer your question now. I prefer to think that the Hawaiians are not a dying race; they are very busy creating an international race. Take my little granddaughter here; come here, Debbie. She says, This little girl is French, English, Spanish, Hawaiian, Japanese. She says, How more international can you get? She had a standing ovation. [CHUCKLE] But, that’s how she thought.

 

And did she bring to you her aha moments, her epiphanies?

 

Yes. We used to sit and have these discussions about what was happening in her life, and what was happening in ours, and how we were growing. And we didn’t we didn’t go out an awful lot; we didn’t enjoy doing that. We liked to stay at home with the family. We did a lot of things together.

 

And she said that she just learned that there’s just not a big place in one’s life for negativity.

 

Yes.

 

So she tried never to say—

 

No.

—anything bad. Did she succeed at home? I mean …

 

Well, we had our—

 

As far—

 

—spankings and everything. I mean, if you want to call that negative. But—

 

But could she be positive about so many things?

 

Yes; yes. She taught us to see only the good. And I have trouble with one child who only sees good, and she will not see the other. I said, There is also something that is not good here, and you have to find a balance there. You just can’t see only good, good, good, good, good; because not everyone is made up of the two.

 

Do you think your mother saw the negative, but chose not to acknowledge, really?

 

Yes; yes. That is non-acknowledgement of it, and nullifies it.

 

Are you that way too?

 

Yeah.

 

Emma Veary says that through her daily actions, she feels she’s continuing where her mother left off in her spiritual journey. Now another treasured local singer and musician, Mihana Souza. Mihana, who sings and plays the upright bass for Puamana, her family’s Hawaiian music group, talks about how she ended up as the bass player … and other lessons from her mother—the late great entertainer/composer Irmgard Aluli.

 

How did you come to be the one who played the bass?

 

You know, being a young mother, and trying to find a way to help with income, I started to make head leis and flower bouquets for friends who were getting married. And I remember I would strap my daughter onto my back, and we would go up, and we would pick all the lauae in the mountains. Well, one time, it got too hard, and I went to my mother and I said, What do I have to do to sing? And she said, Well, go get yourself a bass. So I called my cousin Kekua, and he happened to have two basses; so he said, Come, I’m gonna give you this bass.

 

Did you know how to play a bass?

 

I didn’t know how to play the bass.

 

[chuckle]

 

And I took the bass back to my mother that night. She taught me how to play that night, in forty-five minutes. And that next weekend, we started to sing; it was me, my older sister Neau, and my mother. And we haven’t had a free weekend since. [chuckle] So, yay!

 

Now, I know Puamana has always sung harmoniously. Have things always been harmonious within the group?

 

Always. Always. Number one, we have the example of my mother.

 

Was she always right?

 

Always. [chuckle] And I’ll tell you why she was right; because she always came from a place of humble kindness. She was always very thoughtful of who she was with. She was always very, very gracious. And she was always very kind.

 

Boy, that’s a hard act to live up to, isn’t it?

 

Yeah; it was really hard, except when you see it in action. Because when you see it in action, you realize that that is truly a wonderful way to live your life, to live a life of kindness. I mean, I always wanted it quickly, I wanted it now; until I saw the way my mother did it. She was just so nice. [chuckle] And she was never confrontational. But she was very gracious, and you could tell that she loved her homeland, and she loved the people here. She loved what she was doing. And she was a historian in her own way. Because her music would be an account of what was going on in her time.

 

And what an amazing thing happened when you recorded a song she wrote in the 40s.

 

[chuckle] Just to tell you a little bit about that story. My mother has written over three hundred Hawaiian songs. And I remember as a young child growing up, there were always these parties. Boy, they really knew how to celebrate. They would have these parties all the time, great parties. The women would always come up in muumuus, and they were those silky muus with the frills and they’d always have potluck. And always, I remember they would then gather in the back yard, and they would sing, and they would dance, and in the wee hours of the morning, then the men would come and sing. And my father always loved my mother’s — he would call them her Haole songs, because they were songs that she would write in English. And she has about seven of them. And one of them was called Rust On the Moon. So always at the end of these parties, they would sing all of these old songs, and they were the Haole songs. And when I put out my first album with the help of my mother, I remember promising my father that if I ever put out any albums — that’s really dating, ‘cause I speak in terms of albums [chuckle] that I would bring to the public my mother’s Haole songs, the ones that we loved so much. And one of them was Rust On the Moon. That was one of my favorites.

 

That favorite song her mom penned, “Rust on the Moon,” is featured on Mihana Souza’s debut solo album of the same name. In 2003, the album was named Na Hoku Hanohano Jazz Album of the Year. Our next Long Story Short guest was once recognized as Hawaii Mother of the Year. Cha Thompson, mother of 12, grew up in Kalihi public housing and is now a respected business leader. Along with her husband Jack, she owns and operates Tihati Productions, a family-run entertainment company. Here, Cha shares how she still gave her all as a mother to raise her children while living the life of an entertainer and entrepreneur. This often involved traveling abroad, so she had some help from her aunt, who she calls “one of [her] most favorite people in the whole wide world.”

 

My Puna Dear in Waimanalo helped raise my children. And it was a place where they were always clean and always well fed, and always happy. And I could rest assured that they weren’t missing me the way uh, other children would miss their parents that would have to take trips a lot. Because we’d always be on the phone, and she was like, Don’t worry, Mama be home, Mama be home soon, and whatever. And she was the stabling force, and the reason I could travel the way I did.

 

Somehow, I don’t see you handing off most of your business and most of your childcare to other people. I just don’t—

 

[chuckle]

 

—see that

 

I did; I took care of them. Even though I traveled, a lot of times they would travel with me. And I’m telling you; if I was—my youngest son was about six weeks when I went back on stage. And I had him in a little basket back of the stages in Chicago, or New York, or Washington, DC. I did; I took my children with me. I did.

 

You gave birth to five.

 

M-hm.

 

And then you ended up with seven more, somehow?

 

Yeah. It’s a Polynesian custom. And when I say hanai, I raised them from three weeks old. I don’t only take the ones that, you know.

 

Are almost ready to go. [chuckle]

 

Yeah; almost ready—no, no. That’s why the line between my natural children and my hanai children pales, because they’re all brothers and sisters. They never say, Oh, this is my hanai brother, or this is my hanai sister. They’re brothers and sisters. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because ‘til today, everybody comes home for toonai. That’s the Sunday afternoon meal, right after church. Everybody’s there; and everybody’s talking at the same time. And it’s amazing; we all know what everybody’s saying. Sundays are great for us …we always say in our family—and we were honored by a high school for this; much is expected from whom much is given. And man, nobody in our clan, nobody would ever start to begin to think that maybe they were owed this, or maybe they’re kind of special. We make fun of everything, and man, we’d take ‘em down. That wouldn’t happen in our family.

 

So everybody’s expected to do housework. No breaks?

 

My son, who has a real thriving career on his own—he fronted for Fifty Cent.

 

Afatia.

 

Afatia; for Fitty Cents. And I mean, I remember him, he was June Jones’ first running back, and won a ring, and all state, all star, and, excuse me. By Saturday morning, that kennel better be cleaned, ‘cause we don’t have a yardman that’s gonna clean the kennel. And he used to do it, and he’d say, Ho, Mom, can’t you get—you know, I gotta be at rehearsal, and I got—yeah, we can, but you know, twenty minutes or half an hour, do your stuff first. And that’s the way it is; I expected that of them. And I’m really grateful that they’re great kids.

 

Speaking of great kids, our next guest is always in their company. In addition to her husband and daughter, Candy Suiso, the respected Waianae High School educator of over 20 years, has a large family of students, colleagues and alumni. Thanks to the multimedia program she co-founded, Searider Productions, students are gaining the communication and team building skills needed to succeed. Candy’s mother, Julia Smith, was also a respected teacher on the Waianae Coast; for three decades, she taught at Makaha Elementary. In this segment, Candy reveals what life was like for her mother and family – a life few people knew about.

 

…she—my mother, she literally raised four of us. My mother and father divorced when I was nine. my older sister was eleven; and I had a younger brother who was, I think, five; and then my other brother was three. And she just—her whole life was shattered. Um, moved us to Kauai, had my grandparents take care of us. I can’t do this; she moved to Makaha and just literally really had to get her life back together. And a year later, we moved back, and she remarried. And it was a—there was a lot of dysfunction. I don’t know what the word to say, but there was—she married an alcoholic, and there was a lot of abuse. He didn’t really work much, and she carried, she struggled. She would live paycheck to paycheck. And there was a lot of times I know it was hard. It was really hard. She couldn’t provide, I think, the way that she would want to for us. But she’d always have a roof over our heads, we would always have clothes on our body, we’d always have—we had each other. And—

 

What about food?

 

We always had food on the table; always. My mother was the queen of Spam.

 

[chuckle]

 

She knew how to cook Spam, she knew how to cook corned beef hash. She knew how to make ends meet. We always knew at the end of the month when the times were hard, a little harder, we’d have the bean soup and we’d have the ham hocks. And we hated it, but actually, it’s something that we really love eating now.

 

M-hm.

 

We cook it, and it’s good memories. It used to be bad memories, but there was always food on the table, and clothes on our back, and a roof over our head. And she kept us together. She raised four of us, and living out in Waianae, it would have been easy for any of us to either go the other way. But we all turned out really …

 

It must have been hard for her. She was the authority at the school—

 

M-hm.

 

—and somebody who was seen as having her life all together.

 

M-hm.

 

But then to go home and really have to—

 

M-hm.

 

—scrounge and work and scheme to keep things together for your family.

 

I don’t know how she did it. When I look back now, I think, I don’t know how you did it. And you know, my sister and I talk about this all the time. It’s—she—to get away from what was going on at home. A lot of times it was pretty—it was nasty; it was pretty bad a lot of times. And she would just block it out and work. I think that was a lot of how she would run away from what was happening at home her home life, with her husband. And she would just work. She would just involve herself with work, and keep busy. And my sister and I talk about this all the time. We have so much of her in us.

 

Because you work all the time.

 

Because we work all the time, or we keep busy when we want to avoid something or we want to—we just work. And so many times, we think things that used to bother us, the things that she would say, or maybe some of the things that she would do, it would just drive us nuts. And now, I hear myself say things that she would say, and I find myself doing things that she would do, and I think, Oh, my gosh, I have become my mother. And it used to bother me, but now, it’s a good thing. It’s a really good thing.

 

You were lucky that your mom lived long enough to see what you’ve accomplished on the Waianae Coast. What did she say to you?

 

[SIGH]

 

She was always proud of me. She was just always proud of me. She was—she didn’t say much, but I always knew. I think she was most proud, because she saw that part of her lived through me and continues. But she was always—I mean, she just always would tell me how proud she was of what I’m doing and the work that I chose. And that sometimes teaching is not a very prestige job, and you will not make a lot of money. It will not make you very rich with things and with money, but it will make you very rich with people. And she was right.

 

Candy Suiso’s mother was right. Because of Candy’s dedication to and connection with her students, many of them, past and present, see her as a mother figure. The Hawaiian music community lost a mother figure and cultural treasure, with the passing of Aunty Nona Beamer in 2008. Six months later, in this next Long Story Short segment, her son, slack key guitarist and composer Keola Beamer, was ready to talk about his mother and his grief.

 

I didn’t know that that was possible to love somebody so much, and then they’re gone. But the grief sort of reminds me a little bit of when I was a young man, surfing, and you’d sit out there on your surfboard, and everything would be okay, and then this set would come in these big, towering waves. And grief is like that; you’re doing pretty good, and then the grief comes in, in waves, and you do your best and you deal with it. And then another set comes, and this continues for a while, you know. Because my mom was a revered Hawaiian cultural treasure, she touched many lives. And we as Beamers have to have the compassion for other people’s grief too; not just our own.

 

Hard to take care of them, when you’ve gotta take care of yourself too.

 

Yeah. That’s difficult. But we can do it. We have done it. My mom led a life that made a difference in the world; she made the world a better place. She touched thousands of lives and helped many, many students, and she left with dignity. How great, you know. I’d be so happy if that happened in my own life. I want to share a story with you that means quite a lot to me. The morning of her passage, Moana, my wife and I were in San Francisco. And I had this very powerful dream, and it was young woman, a beautiful young woman, vibrant, beautiful black hair. Just this unbelievable energy. And you also had the feeling with this woman in my dream, that she was a person to be reckoned with. You know. And I almost didn’t recognize her, but it was my mom. And she had just come to say goodbye.

 

Did you recognize that at the time, that she was saying goodbye, or did you figure it out later?

 

Figured it out a little bit later. I almost didn’t recognize her, because I was used to taking care of my kupuna mom, right, with the thin arms and the graying hair. But this woman was my mom, before my brother and I were born. And she was beautiful and vibrant; and the word that comes to mind is, joy. She was joyous. She had transcended the cocoon of old age.

 

Our next guest is familiar with difficult times. Now a successful developer and business leader, Christine Camp and her family fled from poverty and political unrest in South Korea when she was only nine years old. In this segment, Christine talks about a different kind of escape. In high school, Christine excelled in her classes, held down several jobs and became a cheerleader. However, her strict mother prohibited Christine from taking part in extracurricular activities that prevented her from taking care of household chores. So at age fifteen, Christine decided to run away from home. Little did she know that by running away from her mother, she would realize what she needed to run toward.

 

… I felt that I could do better, I was making my own money. So I packed up my bags in a little pillowcase.

 

Pillowcase?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] I said, I’m done with you. I ran away from home.

 

How could you make your own way at age fifteen?

 

Isn’t that amazing? I did. And I can’t … my rent was hundred and seventy dollars a month.

 

Where did you live?

 

On Harding Avenue, in one of these old Chinese schools that became an apartment house. Little sections of classrooms were apartment house, and I had a little apartment house next to the sewer line where the cockroaches gathered at night. [CHUCKLE]

 

And what about your neighbors; what were they like?

 

Six families. I have to say, I saw what I felt was to not have hope, to feel a loss in what our life would be. There was a welfare mom who dropped out of high school, had several children, and still within high school age. There was a woman who had two kids, and she was a prostitute. There were—it was just kind of like that. An alcoholic woman, another woman who couldn’t afford to eat regular food, and she was sharing her cat food, what I found out, and I would try to give her what I could. And the only bright light in that whole place were two college students who were a couple, and they were happy people. They were clean, and they were smart, and they had a hope of future. I mean, they had hope for their future. But I internalized this when a traumatic accident happened with me. I couldn’t afford electricity, so I didn’t have power, but I had a little gas oven. And these kids were running around without adult supervision, and I felt like I was the den mother. Whenever I had free time, I would have them come over to my place. And it was a child’s three-year-old birthday, and her mom was out. So I decided, I’m going to bake her a cake. And I’d never used the oven. Turned the oven on; nothing. It was a gas oven. And I realized, Oh, it’s a gas oven, I have to turn the match on. Turned on the match, and the whole thing blew up on my face. I had no hair on my face. Anyway, the emergency medics came, and they called the emergency and everything. And at that moment, while I was cooling off, they had ice on me, I’m sitting there, and I had an Aha Moment. All these images came to me of the people that were living around me, and the little kids. And the only bright spot that I saw were these students who had a future. And I felt that education was my future, I didn’t want to be there, and that I wanted to have hope. I didn’t want to lose hope like these people. And they’re wonderful people, but they lost hope for their future, and they weren’t taking responsibility for themselves. So I packed up my ego, packed up my things; I went home that day, the next day.

 

What was that reception like for you?

 

What was amazing is, my mom never asked me a question. I had called my sister and said, I’m coming home. And she didn’t go to work. She went to work seven days a week; she didn’t go to work. She was there folding laundry, she acted like nothing happened.

 

But now, she’s seen you make this wonderful transition to American life, and be extraordinarily successful as a professional, and a mom. And what does she say?

 

She still treats me like I’m thirteen years old. [CHUCKLE] She wants to comb my hair, and [CHUCKLE] make sure that I’m wearing the right color. No, she’s extremely proud of me. She’s very thankful. She took care of me, so now I take care of her. And she helps me raise my son. And it’s come full circle.

 

Thank you to Christine Camp, Keola Beamer, Candy Suiso, Cha Thompson, Mihana Souza and Emma Veary for sharing personal stories about their mothers and motherhood. And to all devoted moms, mahalo nui for your patience, wisdom and love. On behalf of PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

What did you spend your free time doing? You went to school, you tried to earn money.

 

You know, we babysat; I mean, one another. I took care, helped with the younger ones. I remember helping my mother’s kid sister take care of her children. I was all of eleven years old, and you already helped; you helped—that’s why I love children so much, and if you did anything else, you cleaned the house. My mother made sure of that. And my daughters now; I mean, they all have their college degrees. But they would say, Mama would say, if you have any worth—if you’re worth your salt, you had to learn how to clean the toilet, you had to know how to fight. And you had to have a college degree.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Cha Thompson

 

Original air date: Tues., Aug. 5, 2008

 

Stories of Faith and Family

 

Cha Thompson runs a large family and a large, family-run business with her husband of 42 years, Jack Thompson. Together, they own and operate Tihati Productions, one of the largest entertainment businesses in the state.

 

Raised in public housing, Cha tells Leslie Wilcox that she’s most proud of being able to provide an education for her children. Each has attended college. And she herself recently earned a college degree. “You know, we were always hungry, Leslie; we were always hungry,” she recalls. “And so maybe that was it. Maybe I thought, you know, I’m never gonna let that happen to my kids; and it never did.”

 

How have Cha and Jack succeeded in raising five children of their own and seven more hanai (a Polynesian tradition of adoption)? “We expect for them to give back,” Cha says. “We always say in our family, Much is expected from whom much is given.”

 

Cha Thompson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. We’re about to get to know a woman who’s comfortable in both designer clothing and puka pants; she’s devoted to her big family and her sizable business; and she’s articulate, eloquent in both standard English and pidgin. Who is she? Cha Thompson. A lifelong learner and high achiever. We’re about to sit down and talk with her.

 

With her husband Jack, Cha Thompson owns and operates Tihati Productions, a family business in the entertainment industry. She’s also a mother of 12 grown children, some of them hanai (a Polynesian tradition of adoption). She’s proud that each of her kids has attended college and that she herself has recently earned a bachelor’s degree. Proud – because her story begins in a public housing project in Kalihi.

 

I’m a product of the tenement housing, and it was quite different from today. It was the kind of time where if you ran out of sugar, you could go next door and borrow a cup of sugar, and pay it back when the welfare check came. Yeah.

 

How many people in your family?

 

My mother raised eight of us. Four boys and four girls.

 

And where were you in the mix?

 

Number three, from the top.

 

So that means you helped a lot with the other kids?

 

I did; I did. For us, everything was sharing and caring.

 

How tight was the finance?

Boy. I’ll tell you what; it’s a miracle, what she did to raise all of us with so little; so little. ‘Cause she was not a professional woman. I used to tease her and say, Mama, you’re a peasant woman. Because she had all of us children, and she never really held a job. So the rest of us did. I mean, we all knew we had to help out; so we went to work.

 

So as soon as you could, you started earning—

 

As soon as you could.

 

–money?

 

I mean, we babysat, we mowed the lawn, we worked in the cannery; that was my first real paycheck kinda job.

 

What did you spend your free time doing? You went to school, you tried to earn money.

 

You know, we babysat; I mean, one another. I took care, helped with the younger ones. I remember helping my mother’s kid sister take care of her children. I was all of eleven years old, and you already helped; you helped— that’s why I love children so much, and if you did anything else, you cleaned the house. My mother made sure of that. And my daughters now; I mean, they all have their college degrees. But they would say, Mama would say, if you have any worth—if you’re worth your salt, you had to learn how to clean the toilet, you had to know how to fight. And you had to have a college degree.

 

What about the advice of your mother to you kids?

 

You know, my mom, she allowed for her kid sister to help raise me, who’s really one of my most favorite people in the whole, wide world. We call her Puna Dear and she lives in Waimanalo. The importance to them was that we would just be good people; be honest, you know. No shame in being poor; shame in being dishonest. And so that’s kinda the way I grew up.

 

You didn’t feel shame when you had to wear hand-me-downs and same dress or clothes over and over?

 

No; and the reason I didn’t was because the two ingredients I got from Kalihi was compassion—I knew we were the underdogs; and humor. Anything that might make us less or make us ashamed, we made fun of. My god, we made fun of each other, a lot; and we laughed a lot, and we laughed loud. And so that was kind of the remedy of, Ah, I no care. You know. And I grew up thinking that; like, I don’t care who was bigger, smarter, richer than I was. I was okay; I was okay.

 

That helped you a lot, didn’t it?

 

That sure did. And you learned that from Kalihi. Somebody puts you down, and Ah, you know, I could do something better than they could; I knew I could.

 

 

Did you grow up feeling stigmatized by welfare?

 

I think so; I think so. I didn’t realize it ‘til later, but in the housing, what was important—I don’t know how this is gonna sound, but what was important is, you gotta know how to beef, quite frankly.

 

You can beef?

 

[chuckle]

 

You can beef? You’re so—

 

Yeah, man.

 

–elegant.

 

Yeah, man. [chuckle] At least, I used to a lot. And you know, when you come from a large family, nobody wants to beef with you. ‘Cause in the housing, families fight families. I mean, I know it sounds imbecilic, but we did. I mean, that was—you know.

 

Did you beef boys too?

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. Most of the boys didn’t want to take me on, but I had brothers; big brothers.

 

And they’d back you up?

 

Oh, gosh; it was silly. Today, it’s silly. Wasn’t silly then, though. I mean, you know, we did crazy stuff. You fought over things that weren’t important; you know. You call me one stink name or something; it was silly, but—

 

When you were a song leader, they were known to be the—

 

The cute ones, thank you.

 

The prettiest.

 

[chuckle]

 

And the most social. Were you also very social?

 

I think I was. And I think that was part of standing up, being recognized. Because I think that I saw so many people from the housing being pushed on the side, maybe not being able to express themselves, or knowing, oh, they’re from the other side of the tracks. And so I think I deliberately did that.

 

Did you grow up with standard English in your house, or not?

 

No; no.

 

All Pidgin?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

And so you learned it in school? TV?

 

[SIGH] You know, I must have mimicked people, ‘cause I never studied in high school. I was a terrible student. And I think affiliation; I think my travels as a dancer. I think traveling the world allowed me to meet others that spoke differently from me, and I learned well. But the funniest thing is that you never forget; because a couple months ago, uh, four of my girlfriends from Farrington—we graduated together—came over to the house. I hadn’t seen them in a couple—oh, maybe more than a couple years. I hope they see this. And they spent the night— my husband was out of town, and we all slept on the floor in my living room. And I mean, you want to talk about laugh; we got to make fun of one another. Because after you get older, you realize you’re not all that anyway, and so you can talk the truth about which boys you liked and pretended not to like, or who you beefed and who you beat, and how we even had run-ins with one another.

 

M-hm.

 

Because we were either hiding something or we didn’t want to be perceived as what you perceive me to be, and—

 

M-hm.

 

And it was a wonderful evening. We ended with prayer and hugs. But not before we made terrible fun of one another.

 

You know, what was the most telling thing you heard about yourself?

 

That I couldn’t sing.

 

[chuckle]

 

The nerve. We would do three, four-part harmony, and the one girl, Phyllis Rodrigues, said, Ah, you could never sing. And I said, Shut up.

 

[chuckle]

 

She said, Yeah, we’d always have to start again, ‘cause you’d follow somebody else’s key next to you. You know.

 

Was she right?

 

I think so; I think so.

 

[chuckle]

 

I think so, I was the bossy one that said, No, no, just sing it that way; sounded great, just keep singing. You know. But the things that we didn’t forget was, we had one of our real leaders; she won shot put one year at Farrington. And it was all about being strong, and so she was our leader; her name was Laverne Biven. We called her Beanie. She passed away; but before she did, before she died of cancer, we went to the hospital, and Phyllis brought out her guitar, and we sang four-part harmony for her. And we sang the song that three of us won at a talent contest one night at Farrington. We sang that again. And I mean, I sobbed, because I thought it was like this was a gift we were giving to her. She was dying, and she still had the sweetest voice of all of us. And that is one of the memories I will hold close to my heart as I get older, and remember that they were good times; very good times.

 

Cha Thompson is both gracious and grateful as she describes the direction her life has taken.

 

You have a very successful business; you built your wealth. How do you look back at your days in Kalihi Valley Homes and at Farrington? And have they interfered with relationships? Has your success interfered with relationships?

 

In the beginning. ‘Cause Kalihi kids think you’re all that, when you have to leave them for a little while. But in the long run, we’ve all come back together. And it might sound tacky to some people, but for me, it was my faith as a Christian that brought me through the real difficult times of being [SIGH] so poor, and wanting to achieve, and not being able to, and feeling less. You know, you just gotta swallow your pride; you were less. You know, we were always hungry, Leslie; we were always hungry, I was always hungry. And so maybe that was it. Maybe I thought, you know, I’m never gonna let that happen to my kids; and it never did.

 

What do you remember you wanted the most? What was out of your grasp that you couldn’t have, and you always thought, I want to get, when I ever have money, I’m gonna get that one day?

 

It might have been education. It might have been education, because I went back in my old age. But I think it was education; and it was because I didn’t realize it until I got older—and having a successful company, I was asked to sit on many boards. And they all had magnificent degrees; and I thought, Jeez, you know, wow, there must be something I don’t have; I should go and try to get this. And I finally did. [chuckle]

 

What was Farrington like? I imagine it was—it’s a lot different today. But what was it like then?

 

You know, I sent all my kids to private schools; Kamehameha, Punahou, St. Louis. But for Farrington, I was so proud to come from Farrington, because at Farrington, I saw decent, good kids. I saw boys that didn’t wear black jackets, and didn’t have a ton of pomade on their hair, and guys that became like my brothers. They weren’t all into swearing and fighting; they weren’t. And so for me, Farrington was the first steppingstone to being somebody, if you will. Farrington gave me what I thought was class; because fair was fair at Farrington. You studied hard, you learned. Farrington will always be special in my heart. Farrington was the first real dignified place for me.

 

So, didn’t think of sending your kids to Farrington later, though?

 

And I didn’t later, because I knew that they would get a jumpstart; more than I did, you know. I made sure they knew that education was important. Nobody told me education was important; it wasn’t to my parents. They weren’t educated; they, they just knew hard work, and that’s what we all did,

 

In high school, you met your husband—

 

Yes.

 

–to be. How did that happen?

 

Oh. I thought he was mahu, because he was a gentleman with manners. And I only knew guys that, you know, I knew just tough guys. My brothers are all tough. And—but he was a gentleman; he spoke well, and he tucked his shirt in, and he wore loafers, and I thought this guy—you know. And he tells the story of he thought, Eeuw, what kinda girl has a laugh that loud?

 

[chuckle]

 

So we really didn’t hit it off, you know.

 

This was what year at Farrington?

 

He was a senior, and I was a junior. It was 1964. And I thought, Oh, what kind of Samoan is this? And it turned out where we started having group—we never dated, it was just group people. I mean, you didn’t even hold hands in those days in public; you didn’t hold hands. So we didn’t. We were friends. And his parents were gonna move back to the islands. And I thought—and he told me that, and I thought myself, Well, what’s gonna happen to you? You know, you’re twenty-one now. Are you going back home to where he’s from? He’s from a little atoll in the South Pacific. And he was going back, and I said, Oh well, shouldn’t we be thinking about marriage? [chuckle] Well, that sank me for the rest of my—

[chuckle]

 

–forty-two years of marriage. He told the children I asked him to marry him, and boy, I have to live with that.

 

[chuckle] Now, you said he was very handsome.

 

Yes.

 

I remember you saying this.

 

Yes.

 

Do you still think he’s handsome?

 

Absolutely; absolutely. In a month, we will have been married for forty-two years.

 

And you say you’re different from each other. How are you different, and why does it work?

 

Oh. I think that that man has far too many meetings; he wants to meet about the last meeting. You know. And he thinks I do things too quickly. I will decide in three hours what takes him three days; or I will do three days what takes him three weeks. And the kids will make fun of us ‘til today—they did a skit at one of our anniversary parties; because they cannot believe there’s any similarity between the two of us. How could we have been happily married all these years? Because we’ll see something, and I will say, This is beautifully black. And he will say, Oh, no, it’s white.

 

[chuckle]

 

We’re that different. So by the grace of God, we have been happily married for forty-two years.

 

How does that work? I mean, I don’t get it.

 

Wonderful; wonderful. I think part of it is because we’re like two ships in the night. And so it kinda was like we’re still really excited about one another; we really are. [chuckle]

 

That’s great.

 

He’d better be.

 

[chuckle] Now, did he start the nickname Cha? Your name is Charlene.

 

No; no; no. I really believe—and Karen Keawehawai‘i and I were trying to figure out when I became Cha. The kids in the housing never, ever called me Charlene. I don’t think they could say the R; I’m telling you. I was always Chalene.

 

[chuckle]

Okay? So then I think some reporter first said Cha. And so she asked me one day, How the heck you did become Cha? I said, I don’t know, but doesn’t that sound exotic?

 

[chuckle]

 

Hey; hey, you know, I’ll take it.

 

Cha was a 19-year-old hula dancer who, with Jack Thompson, built Tihati Productions into one of the largest and longest-running entertainment businesses in Hawai‘i, with Polynesian revues and customized events on O‘ahu, Maui, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island.

 

You were graduating from Farrington.

 

Yes.

 

Big achievement.

 

Yes.

 

Then what?

 

Then I traveled the world. I was a dancer, you know, for HVB, for whomever.

 

And that came easily, because people saw you dancing and said, Oh, let’s hire her?

 

Yeah. I mean, I would latch onto groups. I was with the original Puka Puka Otea group that Elaine Frisbee from Rarotonga ran, and we were the only one in the state to do Polynesian everything. And then when she was leaving, I was her lead dancer, and she simply said, Here; take it and run. And at nineteen; excuse me. I knew nothing about business. And so you know, when I married my husband, I was working in medical records at Queen’s Medical Center, and he was working in reservations at Hawaiian Airlines. And people started calling us. And I’m telling you; it was so successful, because tourism at the time was The Thing, and everybody wanted a show.

 

What year was that? What general decade?

 

1969? ’70? And if you said you were from Hawaii, that sold; you almost didn’t have to do anything. And so we started traveling around the world, and when we came home, people wanted shows. We actually had to decide— We gotta get offstage. You cannot be producer, director, business manager, choreographer; which is what we did all—and Oh, God; try do the books. Hello.

 

You danced; what did your husband do?

 

He was the emcee. Yeah; and he didn’t—his very first thing to do was he came to Canada when I was with the World’s Fair, and I was a dancer. And he was one of the few Polynesians who could speak English; so when our emcee got sick, he said, Give it to Thompson. And he said, I’m not an entertainer. You know, and in fact, just before we left, he said, I’m part Samoan; surely I can learn the knife dance. I always thought he was too handsome to be a knife dancer; he didn’t look as—

 

[chuckle]

 

–wild and savagery. But he learned it, and became a knife dancer. A terrible knife dancer in the beginning; can’t hold a candle next to my son, who’s a world titleholder. But that’s how we started. We had to get off stage and get a good attorney, get a great CPA, and we started—we gave up our careers to run the business.

 

Well, you were singled out to be the one to take over the dancing troupe.

 

Yes.

 

Why?

 

[SIGH] You know, I wondered, because I was always so—shucks, I was always vocal. Always had an opinion. I wonder. And many of the Polynesian girls were more reserved. They didn’t always—I always had the plan; I always had the plan.

 

And it was a good plan?

 

It was a good plan. I think survival mode; always in a survival mode, you know. And I think that’s what my children detect. Like, Mom, ho.

 

[chuckle]

 

You know. I always plan for tomorrow. Now, save, you know, the rainy day is coming, and always dress well.

 

If you get into an accident [chuckle] make sure you have clean underwear. [chuckle] And you know, the house must be clean; visitors will come, they’ll judge us.

 

M-hm.

 

I always felt like I was being judged; always.

 

Now, you were busy negotiating contracts, and—

 

 

Yes.

 

–running shows, and running a tight operation. Including shows that went around the world—

 

Yes.

 

–in different places abroad. You were also having children.

 

Yes. My Puna Dear in Waimanalo helped raise my children. And it was a place where they were always clean and always well fed, and always happy. And I could rest assured that they weren’t missing me the way uh, other children would miss their parents that would have to take trips a lot. Because we’d always be on the phone, and she was like, Don’t worry, Mama be home, Mama be home soon, and whatever. And she was the stabling force, and the reason I could travel the way I did, You know, somehow, I don’t see you handing off most of your business and most of your childcare to other people. I just don’t—[chuckle]

 

–see that

 

I did; I took care of them. Even though I traveled, a lot of times they would travel with me. And I’m telling you; if I was—my youngest son was about six weeks when I went back on stage. And I had him in a little basket back of the stages in Chicago, or New York, or Washington, DC. I did; I took my children with me. I did.

 

You gave birth to five.

 

M-hm.

 

And then you ended up with seven more, somehow?

 

Yeah. It’s a Polynesian custom. And when I say hanai, I raised them from three weeks old. I don’t only take the ones that, you know,

 

Are almost ready to go. [chuckle]

 

Yeah; almost ready—no, no. That’s why the line between my natural children and my hanai children pales, because they’re all brothers and sisters. They never say, Oh, this is my hanai brother, or this is my hanai sister. They’re brothers and sisters, you know. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because ‘til today, everybody comes home for to‘ona‘i, you know. That’s the Sunday afternoon meal, right after church. Everybody’s there; and everybody’s talking at the same time. And it’s amazing; we all know what everybody’s saying. Sundays are great for us.

 

Cha Thompson, who’s been recognized as Hawai‘i Mother of the Year, clearly loves her family and her community. Among the many boards on which she has agreed to serve: the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Honolulu Police Commission.

 

People started taking us seriously when we would sit on business boards or when we contributed in a business fashion. You know. But yeah. I mean, you’re Polynesian; surely, you can’t be too smart. And entertainment, heavens; you must fool around, and you must do drugs. Well, we did neither, and it paid off; paid off for us.

 

I sense you’re a good negotiator. I’m trying to figure out—

 

[chuckle]

 

–what your style is.

 

It’s the Pake blood.

 

 

[chuckle]

Leslie, it’s the Chinese blood. And the funny thing about it is, in entertainment, they will say, Oh, come and put on a show, or come and sing and dance for us, and you can eat all you want, and you can drink. I don’t drink. I’m really thin; I don’t eat that much. I need something else; and money was the thing I needed. But we had to earn it; we had to earn it. They didn’t take us seriously, you know. Well, my kids are a little luckier, because they’ve had the benefit of our stories. And they went in with degrees, so they know that they can handle it. And we expect for them to give back; we always say in our family—and we were honored by a high school for this; much is expected from whom much is given. And man, nobody in our clan, nobody would ever start to begin to think that maybe they were owed this, or maybe they’re kind of special. We make fun of everything, and man, we’d take ‘em down. You know, that wouldn’t happen in our family.

 

So everybody’s expected to do housework. No breaks?

 

My son, who has a real thriving career on his own—he fronted for Fifty Cent.

 

Afatia.

 

Afatia; for Fitty Cents. And I mean, I remember him, he was June Jones’ first running back, and won a ring, and you know, all state, all star, and, excuse me. By Saturday morning, that kennel better be cleaned, ‘cause we don’t have a yardman that’s gonna clean the kennel. And he used to do it, and he’d say, Ho, Mom, can’t you get—you know, I gotta be at rehearsal, and I got—yeah, we can, but you know, twenty minutes or half an hour, do your stuff first. And that’s the way it is; I expected that of them. And you know, I’m really grateful that they’re great kids.

 

I know you brought in some major acts.

 

Yes.

 

And you developed major talent.

 

I think we’re known as a Polynesian revue. And I don’t know that many people know that Tihati Productions has a vast department that brings in contemporary acts, like we brought in Lionel Richie and Cyndi Lauper. And we also do thematic parties. You know, we’ll prepare a whole Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Aloha in a Volcano. So we do many things; but I think they still think of me as the hula girl. I mean, maybe, because they’ll all say, Oh, you know, you run that halau. And I say, No, I’m not a kumu; I don’t have a halau. But Tihati Productions, they think of as a Polynesian revue.

 

You’ve had to really strike a balance between Polynesian authenticity and entertainment. How do you work that out?

 

I decided early on not to educate them; rather, to entertain them. But, to not sell myself, and not give them what is real. Any Tihati revue that you see will have real flowers, we’ll use real ti leaf skirts. We do authentic numbers and sing it in the native tongues; you know, Tahitian, Samoan, Fijian. And a lot of my instructors are from those islands, Hawaiian. So I never felt that uh, tourism was a threat to me. In fact, when some people might have thought, Oh, that’s a sellout, she’s worked in Waikiki for thirty-five years; you know, why isn’t she with us. I would say, Well, tourism dollars sent all my kids to college. And I never felt that I wasn’t doing exactly what is me. You know, I believe God gave me a gift in my roots and my heritage, and I share it, and lucky for me, tourism is Hawaii’s number one industry, and they’ll always need the hula girl and the steel guitar, and the fire knife dancer. And so I think I’m here to stay.

 

Lucky for Cha Thompson, we’ll always need the hula girl. And lucky for us, she’s here to stay. Mahalo piha to Cha Thompson for sharing stories with me. And mahalo to you for joining in, this week and every week, for Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

 

Surround yourself with people that can do things that you can’t; ‘cause there’s always things that you can do, that they can’t do. And then you get the completed circle, you know. But I have to say that for me, and just finishing college now, I realize that a lot of people do not take um, take God into consideration. For me, without that, man, I’d be a basket case. That’s what I held on to. I said, Lead me, guide me, take me. And that’s the only thing that I follow. I’m kinda bossy, and I think I can do many things, and I have a hard time not being the one to make the plan or to organize. But, but yeah, I can follow the scriptures; I can follow God.

 

You defer to God.

 

I do. I do; all the time.