Those Who Came Before:

The Musical Journey of Eddie Kamae (2009)

: The Musical Journey of Eddie Kamae


The Kamae’s final documentary recounts Eddie’s own journey of musical self-discovery, a journey that led him to some of the most well-respected gatekeepers of the Hawaiian Renaissance and grew into a 50-year pursuit of Hawaiian cultural and musical traditions.



Eddie and Myrna Kamae


In honor of the late Eddie Kamae, PBS Hawai‘i presents an in-memoriam encore of this episode recorded in June 2011.


Eddie Kamae, legendary Hawai‘i musician and a seminal figure in the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance of the 1970s, shares early life lessons and musical experiences and how these helped shape his long-running career. Eddie and Myrna talk about some of the most interesting people they have met over their 20+ year journey making documentaries, and reveal how their meeting was love at first sound.


Original air date: Tues., July 26, 2011


This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Mar. 25, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.


Download the Transcript




EDDIE: Kawena told me, “Everything you’ll be doing in your lifetime, your wife Myrna will be helping you.”


MYRNA: And it’s always interesting when you’re around Eddie. You don’t know what he’s gonna want to do next, what project or what thing’s gonna happen. So I found it really exciting.


Celebrated musician and filmmaker, Eddie Kamae, and producing partner and wife, Myrna; next, on Long Story Short.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Life partners in work and marriage for almost a half century, Eddie and Myrna Kamae have earned national acclaim for preserving on film some of Hawai‘i’s unique cultural treasures. The Kamaes credit many individuals, whose gifts of knowledge and generous support have culminated in the establishment of their Hawaiian Legacy Foundation.




Eddie Kamae has distinguished himself as a singer, musician, composer, author, and film director. As a key figure in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance, Eddie was already famous for his virtuoso playing of the ukulele, when he joined forces in 1959 with the legendary singer and slack key guitar master, Gabby Pahinui, along with bassist Joe Marshall and steel guitarist David “Feet” Rogers, to form The Sons of Hawaii. Edward Leilani Kamae was born in Honolulu in 1927 to a family comprised of ten children. Eddie’s musical path was influenced in part by his father, Samuel Hoapili Kamae. Eddie Kamae’s mother, Alice Ululani Opunui, explained her kindness towards strangers, telling Eddie that, “All these things we do for each other, we feed them more than food; we’re feeding the soul”. It’s a philosophy that has informed the work of Eddie and Myrna Kamae throughout the decades.


EDDIE: There was this boy sleeping in the park, and so my mother tell me, You go get him and bring him here. So I go there, I go—I woke him up. Mister, mister. Yeah. Come, come, my mother wants to see you. So he picked up his things, and he came to the house.


How old was he?


EDDIE: In his teens. And so, he came to the house, and my mother said, “You don’t sleep there anymore, you sleep here”. Now, we all sleep in the living room, you know, so he’s going sleep next to us now. We get nine brothers now, you know. I go, “Oh, wow”. But that’s the way it was. He stayed with us all that time. As the years went by, one day the father came by. And the father wanted to take his son home, but he didn’t want to go. See, he wanted to stay with my mother because he felt my mother adopted him. He said he didn’t want to go, so the father don’t want to leave. So my father went out and told the father, Go, leave. So the father left, and that was the end of the father, and he stayed with me and brothers, and my mother at our place.


What was his name?


EDDIE: Peter; Peter Woo.


And what happened to him? What became of Peter Woo?


EDDIE: Well, I think he got married and settled down somewhere. See, my mother, she just loves people. No matter who they are.


Was your dad like that too?


EDDIE: My father was strictly a man that minds his own business.


But he would allow your mom to bring in—


EDDIE: Oh, yes.


—people to eat and share.


EDDIE: He won’t stop that. He was part Cherokee Indian. He just come and go. But he always told all of us, “What I want from you, you are to respect the elders, no matter who they are. If they’re hungry, you feed them”. And always, he said, “And you help them”. [SINGING]


How did you learn to play the ukulele?


EDDIE: Well, my brother Joe. My oldest brother was a bus driver, found a ukulele on the bus, brought it home. My brother Joe would tune the instrument and play, so I liked to listen to that sound that he was doing. Well, he put the instrument down, so I figured, I watched him while he was playing the chord progressions. And so, when he go to work, so I go get the ukulele, I sit next to the radio, I turn on the radio, whatever music is, I just strum away, just feel like I’m playing with the music. But I’m just enjoying myself. Those days, yeah. That’s what got me involved in music. See?


Do you think you were good, right from the beginning?


EDDIE: Well, I thought so, myself.


[CHUCKLE] And you were actually playing songs from the beginning?


EDDIE: Yes. I just listened to the music. See, it was music by—well, I love Spanish music, yeah, because it was Xavier Cugat. His music. And I love one song that he plays all the time, and I followed him.   So it was titled “Porque?” See? And I loved the song, so I just followed him. But the rhythm section is what I liked. See, I just listen to the rhythm, and I just play the rhythm. The feeling of it, you know. So, then my father would take me to the jam session, Charley’s Cab, right on King Street right across the Hawaiian Electric building. So they had this taxi stand there, so my father would take me over there on Fridays and Saturdays. That’s where all the entertainers would come and sing, and play music. So I go over there and play my ukulele. And what I liked about the whole idea, people throw money on the stage, and the musicians pick it up and put it in my pocket. I liked that. [CHUCKLE]


Good incentive.


EDDIE: Oh, yes. So I just play, and my father just smile, he’s happy. So then he takes me back the next day. Then I can see that in him, until one day he asked me, “You should play and sing Hawaiian music”. And I told my father, “It’s too simple”. I wasn’t interested. But he never asked me again, but it’s the only thing he ever asked me. So when he passed away, that’s how I got into Hawaiian music, listening to Gabby, sitting down and playing with him. That was it.


What about Hawaiian music is too simple?


EDDIE: Well, it was. What I heard was simple. Chord progression is just totally simple. So Gabby, I heard him play, I like. Gabby had that personality. Well, he was a great musician. Also, that I found that was interesting, he had a voice that would carry a tune, you know. But secondly, he can get funny at the same time. And thirdly, he can get naughty.


Naughty, meaning …


EDDIE: Yeah. He just telling people, “Shut up”. And I couldn’t believe it. I said, “This is Hawaiian music; now what is this?” I didn’t know that. But the people out there are laughing. And Gabby and go, “Oh, shut up”, because they’re demanding that he sing this song and that song, and he has his own forte. But that’s the way he is. But if he see the old folks, or somebody that have money, that’s who he’s gonna sing for. The guy gonna buy him a drink. Marshall sings along with Gabby. You know, Marshall. And because he went to Kamehameha School, so he knew the language. So he would harmonize with Gabby. But there are times Gabby sings the wrong lyrics, and Marshall, he look at my steel player and me, he go, “What’s wrong with that monkey?” So he calls Gabby monkey every time. And Gabby wink at us, and he go sing something that’s not right. And Marshall turn to us, he said, “There goes that monkey again”.




EDDIE: So they had this routine of kidding one another, you know. I said to myself, “By golly, this is interesting”.


While performing Hawaiian music with the Sons of Hawaii, Eddie began his quest to find the sources of Hawaiian musical traditions. In that process, he sought the help of two key cultural resources; Pilahi Paki and Mary Kawena Pukui. Both women were generous with their encouragement, and with their knowledge.


MYRNA: Kawena Pukui was really central in Eddie’s life for guidance. He’d always go to her. Even before I met Eddie in the early 60s, he had this strong bond with Kawena, and she would guide him. And he would come back and bring music he’d found with, maybe, one verse, and nobody knew the rest of it. And he could hand it to Kawena, and she would write the rest of the verses for him. She just had this incredible memory, and just loved to do things with Eddie that would then be remembered by everyone.


EDDIE: She always tells me, “It’s out there”.


Go find it?


EDDIE: Yes. “Ho‘omau, Eddie, ho‘omau”. Continue on. So I just look at the music, and I look at the lyrics, I find no problem. So then, I can play it and sing it.


And you couldn’t hear those songs anywhere else, you had to—




—bring them back.


EDDIE: Yes; yes.


What’s the difference between the old songs, and the songs that had become popular in their place?


EDDIE: There’s no difference. The old people had their own way of presenting the music. But as time go by, change will come. Kawena told me that. She always tell me, “Just do it, it’s important.” So I had a chance to focus on what I want to do, and I just do it.


You know, Hawaiian composers then and now, there’s a lot of double entendre, there are a lot of hidden meanings, layers.




Can you always tell what the song is about?


EDDIE: Oh, if my tutu’s laugh at me, I know already.




EDDIE: I know they know the other side of it, the translation, and I don’t want to hear it. Yeah. But that’s the way it is. Sometimes they all they just laugh. So when they do that, I stop singing. So I know they know what the meaning is about. See? That’s Hawaiian music. Now you don’t see a lot of the elderly people around to tell you that, see, but I love to listen, I love to talk with the elderly people. I like too when they say, “Come here”, and they have a piece of paper. “You sing this song, because my papa would always sing this song to my mama”. See? She say, “Sing this”. So now, I gotta trace it, because I have all this research material and books that I kept before, so I can trace it and get it down, get the lyrics, and I know what it is, because she told me. And I wish that there were more like that. This is something personal with families.


Alongside her husband Eddie, Myrna Kamae has produced award winning albums of traditional Hawaiian music featuring the Sons of Hawaii, and ten cultural documentaries for their Hawaiian Legacy series. A native of Mapleton, Utah, Myrna Harmer was in Hawai‘i in 1965 to help a friend open a new restaurant on Maui. Eddie, coincidentally, was in town visiting his mother in the hospital, and he was invited to a party at a friend’s beach house. The gathering included Myrna, who was captivated by Eddie’s music.


EDDIE: Well, Myrna just stared at me.




She liked you, huh? [CHUCKLE]


MYRNA: Well, I didn’t move for two hours. I’d never really heard authentic Hawaiian music.


EDDIE: Yeah.


MYRNA: And here is Eddie, with his little Martin ukulele, and playing with Raymond Kane, that beautiful slack key guitar. And I just walked up to the door, and stood there. Because I did have a background of music; my family all were musical. But in Hawai‘i, I hadn’t ever really heard the authentic sound. And it was astonishing to me, to hear this sound. And with the waves in the background. It was just beautiful. And it was Christmas Day.


EDDIE: Yeah.


MYRNA: And then, that evening, Eddie and his cousin came up to where I was working. I had gone to Maui, to Lahaina, to help them take over a restaurant called Pineapple Hill. And so, the person who was the manager said to Eddie, “Why don’t you and your cousin come up, you know, to the restaurant”.


Had you met? Had you just listened to the music, or had you met?


MYRNA: Well—


EDDIE: Not yet.


MYRNA: Not yet.




MYRNA: I think I fell in love with the music first.




But you noticed her watching.


EDDIE: Well, no, but I look at everybody.




Oh, okay. So now, something happened this night. So how did it happen, and when did it happen?


MYRNA: Well, I remember that Eddie was standing back, in the back with he and his cousin, Hale Kaniho. And I wanted to go into town, and I had a trail bike that I usually would ride, but I thought, Gee, most of the times, things closed in Lahaina in those days really early. But I really wanted to go somewhere. So I just said, “I’m taking my trail bike, going into town; if anybody is going into town, I’ll take a ride with you, but you gotta bring me back”. And Eddie goes, “Oh, I’ll take you”. And so, I grabbed a bottle of Chianti wine out of the storeroom, and we went down, let his cousin off, and then we looked for a place. Anyway, they had a rock wall then, and Eddie was a lot different then. He had gabardine trousers, and—




MYRNA: —these silk shirts, and beautiful, beautiful clothes. And of course, I had, you know, cut-off Levi’s and a sweatshirt, and that kind of thing. Anyway, so I said, “I’m gonna jump over the wall; will you follow me?” And he said, “Yes”. And I thought, “Oh, yeah, sure”. [CHUCKLE] So we climbed over the wall, and we opened the bottle of wine. And we were looking out, and my goodness, this gorgeous Maui Moon—


EDDIE: Yeah.


MYRNA: —is coming down into the ocean.


EDDIE: Sunset. It was totally round, orange, just slowly going down. And we just looked at that. That’s the most interesting sunset I’ve ever seen.


MYRNA: Actually, it was the Moon going down.


EDDIE: Oh, whatever it is.


MYRNA: [CHUCKLE] Well, the short side of the story of how our families felt was, we decided that we wouldn’t tell anybody, and just go get married. And then, we would tell them after. And that worked quite well. Except, a few people were upset, ‘cause they wanted to have a party. [CHUCKLE]


But you were accepted, you were accepted.




And in fact, you got rave reviews from Mary Kawena Pukui, right?




Didn’t she say something really good when she met you?


EDDIE: Kawena told me, she said, “I want to meet your wife”. So when I brought Myrna, she and I discussed my subject what I was doing, and she noticed Myrna was down on the floor taking notes and writing, see? So then time to go, so Myrna bid her farewell first. So when I came around to bid her farewell, goodnight, and she told me, “Eddie, if you have any pilikia with your wife, you’re wrong”.


[CHUCKLE] You’re wrong. [CHUCKLE]


EDDIE: I go, “Oh, no”.




EDDIE: Yeah, now I know she knows, see?


What’s the connection between you two? How do you make it work?


EDDIE: Well, Kawena told me, “Everything you’ll be doing in your lifetime, your wife Myrna will be helping you”. So when I got into every project, whether it’s filmmaking, songs, whatever it is, she was always there to handle the situation, so I didn’t have to worry about the work, the paperwork and all of that things, the business side. She handle that, so I don’t have to worry.


And that was a role you wanted?


MYRNA: Well, I played that role, but I also got to do some of the other things that were fun. To go out on shoots, to write songs with Eddie. So, it was a lot of fun too. And it’s always interesting when you’re around Eddie. You don’t know what he’s gonna want to do next, what project or what thing’s gonna happen. So I found it really exciting.


In 1970, Kawena Pukui encouraged Eddie and Myrna Kamae to visit the Big Island, to find the songwriter of Waipio Valley, Sam Lia Kalaiaina. He later became the subject of their first documentary film. One of the last Hawaiian poets to compose using flower images to represent hidden meanings in his songs, Sam Lia was already eighty-nine years old, and one of the few living cultural practitioners who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries.


EDDIE: And when I went up to the house, here was Sam Lia sitting down. It just seemed like he was waiting for me. I said, “My father is in Waipio too”. See? And then he told me many stories. And one of the most interesting story I heard, when he said, “I was playing music with the boys”. See? And I said, “What?” “I was playing music with the boys, then in come running, running in was Prince Kuhio. So we all about ready to stand up, but he sit down, so we couldn’t stand up. So I look at him, and he just smiled. So we played music, entertain him”. But he said, “I just write my thoughts down, what I saw, what he does, and what he’s gonna do. So I just label it down.” Yeah. So then … and then he tell me, “Here, you sing this”. So he had wrote a song for Prince Kuhio.


MYRNA: He did say to Eddie that he had been waiting for him.


EDDIE: Yes. Yes.


Did he mean, waiting for the right person to share with?


EDDIE: There’s no more like him. He’s so generous. If it’s your birthday, he writes you a song. Those days, money is just not the thing. It was what you give. [SINGING]


Luther Makekau was one of the most colorful and cantankerous characters profiled by the Kamaes. Luther was a chanter and singer, poet and philosopher. He was already into his ninth decade, when the Kamaes went in search of his story.


EDDIE: Here was a man, intelligent, but all he wants to do is just drink and have a ball. And Luther said, “I met a man in a bar”. I said, “And what it was like?” He says, “Well, we’re drinking. See? So, I’m drinking, he drinking. So then I told him I own acres and acres of land here on the Big Island.


MYRNA: Is that Luther told the guy?


EDDIE: Yeah.


MYRNA: Oh; okay.


EDDIE: See, what he wanted to do was drink on the guy all day, so he gotta impress him. So he goes, “Let’s go to my lawyer’s office”. And he walks, and the girls tell him, “He’s in”. So he goes over there, pound the door, and he works this thing out with the lawyer, see? He pound the door, he say, “Is my papers ready?” So the lawyer says, “Luther, it’ll be ready in one week”. Was the lawyer told me this story. He said, “Now I know what he going do, he’s going beg and drink on the guy all day”. And that’s what he did. He impressed the guy that he owns acres and acres of lands, now he going back and drink on the guy. One story the daughter told me. She said, “We went to his anniversary party”. You know, Luther’s. Top floor of the hotel there. And all of a sudden, the emcee says, “Will please Luther Makekau’s children please stand”. She said, “Eddie, I didn’t know I had thirty-nine half brothers and half sisters”. But that was Luther, see?


Different women, obviously.


EDDIE: Yeah; they all chased after him, see? That’s the way he is. He doesn’t bother, as long he got his bottle of booze, that’s what he loves, see. Yeah.


And he was a musician too, right?


EDDIE: Oh, he sings. Yeah, play. He sang falsetto with Sam Lia.


He was just an all-around character, wasn’t he?


EDDIE: Oh, yes. The old-timers by the theater, they tell me, “You know, Eddie, you know that guy, he tell us, Okay, you see that house over there? I want you guys to go over there, ‘cause I gonna move, so I want you guys move all the furnitures out.” [CHUCKLE] So while they were doing that, this other guy come by and says, “What are you fellows doing?” He said, “Well, Luther told me he’s moving, so we’re moving his things out”. The guy said, “This is my house”. And the guys that telling the story afterwards, they go, “That Luther, he almost got us into trouble”. [CHUCKLE] But who would do that? [CHUCKLE] He tell them move thing out, that’s not his house. Only Luther can think about that.


So it seems like you are always attracted to authenticity. You know, people being really who they are, in the place they are.


EDDIE: Yes. Well, that’s what I found about Luther. He had a way of doing things, and everything is his way he’s gonna do it. See? It’s amazing. Even the lawyers tell me that. “Eddie, that guy is always thinking.”


MYRNA: When Eddie first wanted to go out and do music, music research, we had saved twenty thousand dollars to put down on a new house. And he asked me if he could use that money to go out and do research, and I said yes. And it’s always been that way. You spend a lot of your own money. And then, Eddie has some really good friends that, when he got into the filmmaking business, they helped him be able to do it. Herb Cornell and his wife Jeannie came to one of our documentaries, and asked Jeanette Paulson, who’s head of the Hawaii International Film Festival those years, “You gotta help Myrna and Eddie, how can we do it?” A little bit later on, Herb, and Carol Fox, and Sam Cooke, and Kelvin Taketa, before he became the head of Hawaii Community Foundation, still at Nature Conservancy, they helped us do five films. And that was a major, major part of our work. And then, we actually formed a nonprofit called the Hawaiian Legacy Foundation, and we have a board of directors. People who love Eddie’s music, who love the work, they love the authentic, cultural continuity that we try to establish in the work. You look at the people that helped us make the films, and that you have to have a really wonderful production crew, and we’ve had, most of them from the beginning, like Rodney Ohtani, and Dennis Mahaffay has been a consultant through the whole thing.


So you never bought that new house?


MYRNA: [CHUCKLE] No. We’re still renting. [CHUCKLE]


Eddie and Myrna Kamae’s documentary titled “Those Who Came Before”, the musical journey of Eddie Kamae, honors Eddie’s teachers, Mary Kawena Pukui, Pilahi Paki, and Sam Lia, who inspired the Kamaes’ efforts to preserve Hawai‘i’s cultural heritage. The Kamaes, at the time of this taping in 2011, are hard at work in production on another documentary about the people of Kalaupapa called “Feeding the Soul”. Mahalo piha, Eddie and Myrna Kamae, for sharing your long story short, and thank you, for watching and supporting PBS Hawai‘i. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


MYRNA: Eddie would take me to see Kawena Pukui. And the thing that she said to us that meant more than anything was, a lot of times along the way, you have some hard knocks. And when something specially hard happened, she would say, “You know, there’s always room in your heart for forgiveness.” And that’s helped a lot through the years, to be able to let things go, and to be able to continue on with the work.



Kī Hōʻalu: Slack Key, The Hawaiian Way (1993)

KĪ HŌʻALU SLACK KEY: The Hawaiian Way


A collection of candid interviews and archival images, combined with the music of an array of virtuoso performers, this film tells the story of Hawaiian slack key. It depicts how this unique style of playing has become fundamental to Hawai‘i’s musical, cultural and familial traditions.


Words, Earth & Aloha:
The Source of Hawaiian Music (1995)

WORDS, EARTH & ALOHA: The Source of Hawaiian Music


Featuring some of Hawai‘i’s most respected cultural resources and talented performers, this documentary pays tribute to composers who flourished between the 1870s and the 1920s. The film looks closely at Hawaiian lyrics and the places that inspired them, and charts the evolution of Hawaiian music with the introduction of imported musical forms.



The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years


Explore the history of the Fab Four, from their early days in Liverpool to their last concert in San Francisco in 1966. The film, by Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, reveals how the foursome united to become the global phenomenon that was The Beatles.



Live in Australia 1989


Enjoy the tight harmonies of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb as they perform their greatest hits, as well as some rarely heard selections, in this fully restored, newly mixed and mastered concert recorded in Melbourne…at the National Tennis Centre in 1989.



Doo Wop Generations


Celebrate the new generation of doo wop performers as the original legends reunite to pass the torch. Performers include Kenny Vance & the Planotones, The Duprees, The Whiptones, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, The Modern Gentlemen and many more.



Kenneth Makuakāne


Renowned songwriter, record producer and performer Kenneth Makuakāne offers a sentimental and candid performance inside historic Kawaiaha‘o Church in Honolulu. When Kenneth performs, he draws on vibrant memories and meaningful relationships. “It’s almost like going back in time,” he says. Among the songs he performs are “‘O Violeka,” an affectionate ballad for his mother, and “Ku‘u Pua Lei Mēlia,” inspired by his experience of sending off his oldest son to college.



Marilyn Cristofori


For 24 years, Marilyn Cristofori headed the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance, a statewide nonprofit that champions the arts through advocacy and education. Upon Cristofori’s retirement, the very nonprofit she headed selected her as its 2017 Alfred Preis Honoree for her lifetime support and leadership in the arts. In this conversation, she recounts her experiences as a dancer, a university educator and a nonprofit leader.


This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 11, at 4:00 pm.


Marilyn Cristofori Audio


Download the Transcript




Once upon a time, arts was considered a basic part of life.




A formal piece of education.


And it still is. Because what we do at the Arts Alliance is … the big picture. But if you want to be a ballet dancer, you’ve got to get your body to a ballet studio and stand at the ballet barre, and learn … that particular discipline. If you want to be an opera singer, you’re not gonna do it … in a school classroom.




I mean, you can be exposed to it, you can learn about it, you can … the history and the composers, and so on, and so forth. But if you want to be a performer or a creator of that discipline … gotta go there. There is no other choice.


Marilyn Cristofori headed the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance for twenty-four years. Upon her retirement, she was selected as the 2017 Alfred Preis Honoree. That was a prestigious acknowledgement of her lifetime support and leadership in the arts. She joins fellow Preis Honorees next, on Long Story Short.


One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing

people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.


Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Marilyn Cristofori always knew she’d have at least two careers, because she started out as a dancer, a calling prone to injuries and other physical wear and tear. Next, Cristofori became a university dance teacher. And then, she enjoyed a long third career heading a nonprofit organization advocating for arts. Upon retirement, she was named 2017’s Preis Honoree for her arts achievements by the very organization she headed, Hawai‘i Arts Alliance. She joined a long line of distinguished honorees, many of whom she helped to select. We’ll revisit some of these arts champions during the half hour, and get to know Marilyn Cristofori. As a child, she spent summers and many other times away from her family home in Sacramento because her mother was often ill. Young Marilyn would stay with her grandmother in the Bay Area.


I loved my grandmother. It made me identify with the things that were part of that life. And I loved it. San Francisco.




Italian. She loved the opera, I loved the opera. I can’t sing, but she loved the opera; she always played opera in the house.


And you were the only child in the house?


The only; yeah. She had three children, my mother being one of them, but they were all grown up. I was the only young child. My grandmother did not intend to raise another child; that was one of those … it happened.


And you felt at home at school, and at your grandmother’s house?


I felt very at home at my grandmother’s house, and I adjusted to my other home.


Was your grandmother your most formative influence, then, as a child?


I consider her that; m-hm. Yeah.


Did she give you any explicit advice about the future?


Oh, god. She was … a woman of her era. And I think the year she got married, the women’s vote was finally put in, and she was determined I was gonna get an education.


Did she know how she would pay for it, or anyone would pay for it?


Oh, no. I just had to get good grades and earn a scholarship.


So, you knew that from an early age?




That you were gonna go to college through a scholarship, and you were gonna make the grade to do it.




Did you know what you wanted to do?


When I was raised, Leslie, there was the idea that as a woman, you did nursing or teaching, or mothering, or sometimes a secretary, and occasionally you might have another profession. But those were the main ones. So, I thought I was gonna be a teacher.


M-hm. And you did get a BA in education.


I did.


From a very good college.


I did.


You got into Stanford.




On scholarship?






At that point in time, it was kind of fun, because women were still new to Stanford, so the ratio was about four to one. So, it was a great experience.


Lots of men. And did—


And I was young, so …


Did you feel younger than eighteen?


I was twenty when I graduated.


Oh; how did you get into college so early?


Well, when I was much younger, and all that shuffling back and forth to my grandmother’s and so on, they skipped me a full grade in school.


Wow. So, you graduated from Stanford University at age twenty.




As a … teacher.


Teacher. Yeah. And then, we had an opportunity to take a trip to Europe. And … I thought, that would be fun.


We, meaning you and …


And some … Stanford colleagues.




And a professor was doing the trip, and it was like a big deal. We had to go to New York and change planes, and fly over Iceland, and go to London. That was my first time out of California.


And you actually—


I didn’t come back for five and a half years.


Is that right?


I discovered dancing, which I had been doing all my life, but I didn’t know that I really wanted to do it.


What kind of dancing were you doing?


I was doing ballet at that time. So, then, I wanted to be a dancer, but I had gotten a full scholarship to what was then Radcliff at Harvard Business School. Why did I apply to Harvard Business School? Because the guy that I had a crush on applied to Harvard Business School. I thought it would be fun to go. And I went to Europe, and I decided I really didn’t want to go, and I knew that I could always go to business school, but I couldn’t always dance. So, I stayed in Europe.


And where did you dance?


I danced in Rome, and I danced in London, mainly. Those were the two.


And what was it about your experience in Europe that caused—you left the boyfriend behind too; right?


Yeah. But another one came along.


And is that part of the reason for staying in Europe, or was it—




–sheer dance, or a combination?


Well, part of it. Because he decided to go to London School of Economics, so we got married. I was working in a contemporary company. And I went to ballet classes, and I went to the Royal Ballet. I was not working as a professional ballet dancer in London. I experienced a lot of it, and that was what I knew. So, when I came back to San Francisco, I then was with San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera Ballet, Pacific Ballet, and Lathrop Contemporary Company. So then, I worked as a professional dancer. And because I was still young enough, since I had graduated so young, I was able to do it, and have … a fairly decent career.


What other types of dancing did you do?


Then, I did contemporary.


Which was freeform …


Well, modern dance. And that’s why I got involved until I … I needed to get a job, and became a professor and academic, and you’re supposed to write a book. And what did I do instead? I didn’t want to write a book; I made … documentaries for PBS about famous dancers. And so, I got very involved with that part of things.


And you felt passionate about a number of things, it sounds like.


Yeah; yeah. Well, I loved dancing. That’s definitely my first love. But every dancer needs at least two careers.


And you know that, going in.


Well, because you can’t dance beyond a certain age … adequately. I got to be a professor, I got to teach. And then, I went to business … eventually.


Because that’s what you were going to do years before. You know, it’s not a natural jump, it doesn’t sound like, to go from dancing to professor of dance, to an MBA at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.


At least in my day, it was more natural to go from a professional dance career, or to parallel with teaching, and to move into academia.


You were a professor, and then, you left California and came here. Why?


Because I married … Gregg Lizenbery, my husband, and he got offered the position to be director of dance at UH Mānoa. So, I had taken an early retirement, and then it just so happened he got offered that position. And then, we moved here. That was almost three decades ago. I did not look for my career with the Arts Alliance. But after we moved here, we realized that the cost of living was a little bit different than we were used to.




And so, I had thought: Oh, I’m retired, I’ll just … but that didn’t work. So, I needed to find a position. That’s what I did. So, for a while, I worked part-time for the Arts Alliance, and part-time for Early Childhood, and made them partners. And then, when I was into the position at Arts Alliance, I realized that I would hit a ceiling if I didn’t get a new skillset. Which is why I went to business school.


After receiving her executive master of business degree from the Shidler College of Business at the University of Hawai‘i, Marilyn Cristofori felt she had all the tools necessary to grow the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance.


How do you get funding for the arts?


Oh … so many ways. One of the biggest, biggest … important things that people don’t always get. I find when I say to somebody “arts”, the shade comes down, and what they see is a painting on a wall in a museum.




Or they remember, because there used to be arts in the school curriculum, when they were in school as a child; they had a music class and they had a drawing class, and they had maybe sometimes a dance class, and they could be in their … high school production, theater production. And they remember those things, and they don’t know that it’s not there anymore.




So, you have to tell them … No, it’s not been there for quite a while.


Do public schools have virtually no arts classes? Is that what you’re saying?


Not exactly. It’s heading upwards, but mostly, one of the things the Arts Alliance does now, partners with the State arts agency to run what we call Artists in the Schools.




And that’s … funded by public monies for public schools.


But how do you argue the case when lawmakers or charitable organizations are saying: Look, I mean, we need to support the basics; reading, writing, and arithmetic, and computer technology. We can’t do art; that’s something you’ve gotta get on your own.


One of the biggest convincing arguments has to do with brain research. And they’ve done a lot of research to find out—one of my favorite studies was done, a longevity study. And they followed kids in high school who were either in like boy scouts or girl scouts, or some other community service organization, and where there school arts event in some way, whether it was after school or in school, or if they were in sports. And then, they followed them for … ten years, and how did they do ten years later, by which time they were usually married with some kids, and in a career of some kind. The ones that were happiest, most successful, had come from the arts. So, then they looked further back into that, and they examined what happens when you have those … experiences as a child.




That it shapes your brain differently. You have those connections, neuropathways. And if they aren’t formed by a certain age, usually puberty, they kind of wither and die on the vine.


It’s a key to happiness.


A key to happiness and success in life. So, that’s why back in ancient days now … arts were considered to part of the curriculum. So, the big deal is to get it during the formative years. So, right now, the way our Hawaii school system is built, by the time … children go into high school … there are art teachers, and music teachers, and band, and there are options, after school performing arts centers, all of which work very, very well. But a lot of the times, the kids that want to do those things didn’t have them when they were young, and so, they don’t have competitive skills to be involved. We teach about the arts and how the arts can enrich an experience and change your life.


How big is the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance? How many staffers?


Well, we’re all the way up to seven.


Seven staffers; and what’s your budget?


I took over in ’94.


’94; okay.


Yeah. So … it was thirty thousand. And I said: That won’t do. And then, we got up to … it’s varied, depending on what comes … from national, mostly. Not two million; just under two million. But that was a good jump. It needs to now double again. I feel really good about … we have a base that’s established in the education part. And there’s something to work with, and expand, and go to, and staying with education is essential.


You mentioned three careers, and it’s a very long work record. I don’t know what seventy-seven looks like, but to me, you don’t look like you’re seventy-seven years old.


I really am. And a half.


Do you feel it?


Starting to happen.


Marilyn Cristofori was the thirty-seventh recipient of the Alfred Preis Honors for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. In the past, we’ve featured other Preis Honorees on Long Story Short. We look back now at three recent recipients, and their contributions.


Sarah Richards was the 2015 Preis Honoree. As president of the Hawai‘i Theatre Center for a quarter of a century, she spearheaded an historic restoration, transforming the once dilapidated theater into a national award-winning performance center. A former college dean of students, Sarah Richards switched careers and actually succeeded the legendary architect Alfred Preis himself as chief of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.


You succeeded a man who has got a lot of aura around him in history.




Alfred Preis.




As head of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.




In 1980?


1980; m-hm.


What was he like? Did you know him before you took over?


I got to know him. He was a wonderful man. He was a Prussian architect. And so, he was very Prussian in character, in modus operandi. And he was the one who really initiated the Art in Public Places program, really, on a European model. He was a lovely man, with a great vision.


And when it was time for him to step down, the foundation looked for somebody who was a good administrator, and who could handle the strong voices in the arts community.




And they selected you to do that.


They did; they did.


What kind of strong voices?


Oh, well, the arts, as you know, because the State Foundation dealt with all the arts, whether it was visual arts, performing arts, literary arts. And so, there was a lot of variety of art groups we were dealing with. And of course, since we were the granting agency, we had a lot of very personal contacts with how much money grants were gonna be given to what groups.


Right; and projects are like babies.


Oh, yes; oh, yes.


You give money to one, and it’s my baby.


That’s right.


You know, it seems like a dream job to have all this money that you can give to wonderful art projects. But you probably are under criticism, no matter what you do.


Oh, yes. Giving away money is not just a piece of cake. You need to be clear on what your mission is, what you want to accomplish, and then also who makes decisions and who are qualified to make decisions. It wasn’t just sort of, Here’s some money. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in the eye of the creator. But there are certain standards that the art community has, and that’s why you ask a group of knowledgeable people to review and make a judgment. We were proud we were number one in the nation in per capita state support. So, we did a fair amount of lobbying the State Legislature, and also getting money from the federal government.


You’re a very determined person, aren’t you?


I am determined.


You’re very goal-oriented.


I was very goal-oriented; yes, I was. Yes.


And you’re a missioned person.




Here’s 2016 Preis Honoree, Michael Titterton, former president and general manager of Hawaii Public Radio. Under his leadership, HPR expanded its broadcast reach across the State.


You got your master’s degree in public speaking and rhetoric.


Rhetoric; yes.


Why did you choose that?


Bear in mind, this is the very, very early 70s. It’s 1971, actually. And … coming into ’72, and I knew the U.S. was … I mean, this was … social mobility was here, and that’s what I was really after. I didn’t know it at that time, ‘cause I didn’t know the words. But social mobility. And meritocracy. You know, if you work hard, you can get places. And that’s really what everybody dreams about, when they dream about America, when they’re not from here. If I was going to understand this place, the quickest way to do it might be to study the media, because that seemed to be the bottleneck through which everything passed. And it was a very busy bottleneck at that point. Watergate, for example, Vietnam War, all the unrest on college campuses. Glorious time. And all of it was being fed through a media, which was under suspicion, as much of it is now. And so, I specialized in that.


And you’d already had experienced storytelling, because you had stories to tell along the way.


Well, everybody does. Yeah. Just because of the basic courses that I had to then take as part of being in the rhetoric program, I began to learn something about the mechanics of storytelling, if you like, the idea of a narrative arc. And I was very quickly drafted into teaching public speaking. So yeah, that was … I hadn’t really thought about it, actually, as being part of the whole storytelling business, but I seem to keep coming back to that. But that’s what it is, that’s what life is; it’s the stories we get to tell.


And sometimes, you do things without having a name for it; right? And then, you find out—


Oh, yes; most of the time, actually.


Your real self keeps popping up in the form of what you do.


Yes; that is true. That is true. But storytelling … I guess that’s a lot of the attraction that I have, or that radio has for me, because it’s a storytelling medium, and storytelling is … there’s very few human behaviors that that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized.


And radio has that intimate quality.


Mm. It’s a one-to-one medium, and it’s frighteningly intimate. And the best radio is indistinguishable from pillow talk. It’s that intimate. And that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to love?


Henry Akina, who retired from the Hawaii Opera Theater, was the 2014 Preis Honoree. Born and raised in Honolulu, Henry Akina spent much of his adult life directing opera in prestigious opera houses around the world. He even founded an opera company in Berlin, before moving back home to Hawai‘i. Under the guidance of its first ever Hawai‘i-born artistic director, the Hawaii Opera Theater became known for vibrant, creative productions, sometimes incorporating modern updates and collaborations with top international artists.


I love that approach, in a sense modernizing with Harajuku costumes.


You’re referring to The Mikado, then.


Yeah, Mikado.


Right; yeah.


And you feel free to do that. You don’t take the same opera and present it again. You add new touches. You’ve had Anne Namba’s designs, you’ve had Dean Shibuya change things up.


We have a resident designer at HOT, Peter Dean Beck, who’s resident in New York, but who’s nonetheless been seminal for design here.


How do audiences feel about those changes?


I’m not sure. You know, people say nice things to me, so I’m assuming that they’re honest about those things. But I think that the audiences in Hawaii respond well to good stories, and we try and make good stories wherever we are, from wherever we are.


Do you look for ways to take a classic story and localize it or modernize it?


Well, modernize it, perhaps. Localize it, not so much. But modernize it, perhaps. And in the case of Mikado, for instance, we knew that we couldn’t go backwards; we had to go forwards. And we had to look at the Japan of today, which was a lot different than the first time we did Mikado, which was ten years ago.


So, in ten years, it changed.


In ten years, life has changed. Yeah.


Did audiences know Harajuku girls? Because that was the play.


I think that we tried to let the audience know that we were doing the style. But you’ll have to ask Anne about the Harajuku things, because it was based on one of Anne’s trips to Japan. But I think that in contemporary life, we would be someplace else in ten years.


Right. I think she reimagined those characters as hip shoppers out for retail therapy.


She did; she did. And using cell phones every five minutes. Right. And using an iPad; things like that. So, whatever we’re using in ten years will be reflected in the staging.


You’ve already been announced, I believe, as the 2014 Preis Honoree in Arts, which is a tremendous honor, probably the largest honor we have in Hawai‘i in arts.


Well, I knew Alfred Preis, and I think that that’s … I was saying that, you know, people who know me well don’t expect this honor. And I didn’t expect it, either.


Why? Why didn’t you expect it? I wasn’t surprised to hear that you were named.


Well, I was, in a weird way. And I went to a board member, Jean Rolles, who had been honored herself. And she said: You will do it for this organization. And since then, I have decided that I will do it for the organization.


Congratulations to 2017 Preis Honoree Marilyn Cristofori of Hawai‘i Kai. And mahalo to all of the recipients of this award over the years for the work you’ve done to advance the arts and keep them vibrant in Hawai‘i. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.


The key thing, whatever you’re doing … is to support creativity in our society as a whole. Keep your passion about creativity, and moving forward with what is right … what is just, and what helps everybody. ‘Cause if we don’t preserve our creativity … the rest of it doesn’t matter.


For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie

Wilcox, visit To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with

Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit


I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to contribute so far to education. We’ve been able to create and move forward significantly with Arts First and get admirable, high quality arts back in the schools, particularly elementary schools. So, I’m really feeling good about that.



Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the WWII Internment Camps


Using historical footage and interviews from artists who were interned, this film tells the story of how traditional Japanese cultural arts were maintained at a time when the War Relocation Authority emphasized the importance of assimilation and Americanization. Included are stories of artists in the fields of music, dance and drama who were interned at Tule Lake, Manzanar, Amache/Granada, Rohwer, Gila River and Topaz.



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