performer

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
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 Sunday, July 8, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Marilyn Cristofori Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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

 

M-hm.

 

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.

 

M-hm.

 

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?

 

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?

 

M-hm.

 

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

 

Yeah.

 

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.

 

Yeah.

 

On scholarship?

 

Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

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.

 

Yeah.

 

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.

 

M-hm.

 

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—

 

Yeah.

 

–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.

 

M-hm.

 

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.

 

M-hm.

 

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.

 

Mm.

 

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.

 

M-hm.

 

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.

 

M-hm.

 

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.

 

Yes.

 

Alfred Preis.

 

Right.

 

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

 

Right.

 

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.

 

Yes.

 

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.

 

Yeah.

 

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 PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with

Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

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.

 

 

HIKI NŌ
Episode # 916: Athlete Leihali‘a Panui and other stories

 

TOP STORY

 

Students from Wai‘anae Intermediate School in West O‘ahu tell the story of Leihali‘a Panui, a female place-kicker and senior at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama who played on the school’s men’s varsity football team during the 2017 season. At first Leihali‘a’s father was not sure he wanted his daughter playing football, but Lei’s mother said, “I told my husband, ‘Who are we to say whether Leihali‘a can or cannot play football? We’ll just leave it up to the coaches and let them decide if she’s good enough for the team.’” The coaches decided Leihali‘a was good enough and welcomed her onto the team. Once he saw his daughter playing, Dad was won over: “It’s an amazing feeling seeing my daughter on the field playing football and hearing the spectators cheering her on.” Says Leihali‘a, “If you love something and you’re passionate about it, I would definitely think you should go for it 110% with all your heart because you don’t want to look back ten years later and regret it. Life is too short to have any regrets.”

 

ALSO FEATURED

 

–Students from Mid-Pacific on O‘ahu tell the story of a street performer turned painter who finds an enthusiastic audience in Waikīkī.

 

–Students from James Campbell High School in Leeward O‘ahu tell the story of a child of divorce who finds solace and a new family in dance.

 

–Students from Kapa‘a High School on Kaua‘i explore the reasons why their town has the largest concentration of Mexican restaurants in the state.

 

–Students from Aiea High School on O‘ahu show us how to make a money lei (a very popular lei among graduates).

 

–Students from Kua O Ka Lā Miloli‘i Hipu‘u Virtual Academy on Hawai‘i Island tell us about the traditional Hawaiian practice of ‘ōpelu fishing.

 

–Students from Ka Waihona o Ka Na‘auao Public Charter School tell the story of the instrument that made Hawaiian music popular around the world: the steel guitar.

 

This episode of HIKI NŌ is hosted by students at Kaiser High School in East O‘ahu.

 

 

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.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Melveen Leed

 

Melveen Leed’s music career spans over five decades and has taken her around the world. However, in many ways, she says she’s still “da tita from Moloka‘i.” She opens up about life’s challenges: a childhood spent in two households and on two islands, a “nightmare” performance in Russia, and why she’s found a new sense of peace and personal happiness in her life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 3, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Melveen Leed Audio

 

Melveen Leed Transcript

 

Transcript

 

We know what your nickname is.

 

The Tita?

 

Yeah; The Tita.   Now, tita means …

 

Sister.

 

Sister.

 

Yes.

 

Does it mean that, or fighter?

 

Both.

 

And both are true.

 

Yeah; both are true.  Yeah.  But you know what?  In those days, you know, we didn’t get—I know, I didn’t, I never got into real big trouble.  Yeah. And I fought for my rights.  Yeah; we all did, yeah?  But it made me more confident.  You know what I mean?  Because there were a lot of bullies in those days.

 

Melveen Leed has made good use of that confidence, entertaining audiences for over fifty-five years, from Waikīkīto Carnegie Hall, and around the world.  Melveen Leed, 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.  Melveena Ku‘uleipuanani Leed, better known as Melveen, is an icon in the local entertainment industry.  As a young girl, her first performance venue was kanikapila night at her grandparents’ home on Molokai.  Since those childhood days, life has dealt Melveen Leed her share of highs and lows, but the one constant, the unwavering achievement, is a talent that moves easily across musical genres, from Hawaiian to Jazz, to Gospel, to Country.  She can sing and perform all of them, and at high level.  Melveen Leed, the vocalist, musician, and composer, grew up in the 1940s and 50s, having the best of both worlds with her family on Oahu, as well as with her grandparents on Molokai.

 

 

I was born here.  My mom was very young; she was only seventeen years old, and she was a child herself, you know.  And so, she couldn’t really, you know, mother me as much as she should have, you know, because she had her career and her life to think about.  And I don’t blame her.  So, my grandparents came and took me away, and raised me on Moloka‘i.

 

What part of Molokai?

 

‘Ualapu‘e; it’s the eastern part of Moloka‘i, God’s country.  And so, every vacation or anything, my grandparents would put me on the plane. It was Cockett Airlines at that time, small little airline, rubber band airline, we call it.  And they’d send me to my mom, to spend vacations with my siblings. I have my sisters and my brother who was children of my stepfather; yeah?  And so, we spent time like that together on Easter and Christmas, and summer vacation, and all that.  And then, she’d send me back to go to school on Moloka‘i, at Kilohana School on the eastern part of Moloka‘i.  And I was brought up a real, real old-fashioned way, and I’m so glad I was. Washing our clothes in the streams, you know, growing up like that, growing our own vegetables and fishing, hunting, you know.  And we knew how to work hard.

 

What did the family hunt for?

 

Well, my uncles and them, especially.  I went on just a few, but I would never do that again. As I said, my grandfather used to say: You carry down what you shoot.  Oh, shucks.  You know, no, I’m not going carry the deer down by myself.  Uh-uh.  So, I wasn’t interested in that.  I was more interested in fishing.  And my grandfather taught me how to make fishnets, from scratch.  Yeah.

 

Did you try to throw them, too?

 

Oh, he taught me how to throw.  And so, we had a needle to make the nets; that’s called a hia. Okay?  And then, we had the rectangular wood, and that was the size of the eye of the fishnet.  And that was called the ha ha.  See? So, my grandfather would teach us how to patch the nets, and he had a pocketknife that he used and we made the hole, and we patched the nets, you know.  And so, things like that.  My grandfather was a remarkable man, and he was the one that actually made an ukulele for me when I was only about three years old.  And so, I played the ukulele and sang for all my grandparents’ guests.

 

How did you learn; did you watch somebody else?

 

My grandfather; yeah, I just watched him. For some reason, I’d watch someone play an instrument, and I’d grab the instrument and I’ll play it.  You know?

 

From the beginning?

 

Yeah; by ear.

 

From an early age?

 

Yeah; early age.

 

Did your family teach you all kinds of songs?  ‘Cause you’re good at all kinds of genres.

 

Well, my grandparents, you know, they had kanikapila nights, you know, and so, they’d have people come over, and they all played music, and I would watch and I’d grab the ukulele, and I’d play with them, you know, and everything, and learn all these beautiful songs.  And Lena Machado used to come over to the house, and of course, you know, we had musicians friends that came over, and our family.  You know, everybody knew how to play the ukulele and guitar.  You know, my auntie could play slack key, and it was really nice. And so, I learned all this.  And plus, my mom now, in Honolulu, she had those 78s.  And so, I’d listen to all of the jazz music, so I was raised with jazz music; yeah? That old music, and I love it. And so, I’m so glad that I learned how to sing jazz; I learned by myself.  And then, I was very fortunate, years later, to hang out with Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae.  You know.

 

How did that happen?

 

Because I was working the SS Lurline.  You know, the ship.

 

Yeah.

 

And they were the main stars in on there.

 

And what were you doing; you were singing too?

 

Downstairs; yes.

 

Oh, different—

 

Yeah.

 

Different floors.

 

Yeah.  So, we hung out together.  So, we went off the boat, and I took her all over, and you know, we hung out and I’d sit and watch her, and I learned a lot just by watching them.

 

That’s a great opportunity.

 

They were so professional.  Yeah.

 

You were in two households.  You were in your grandparents’.

 

Yeah.  And my mom.

 

Oh; and so, you’d go on the rubber band airline.

 

Yes; the rubber band airline to Honolulu.

 

Okay; now, where did your mom live?

 

Halawa Housing; you know, where the Aloha Stadium is?

 

Yes.

 

That’s where we stayed.

 

Halawa Housing; bit of an urban tone there.

 

It was a very rugged district.  It was; yeah.  But we all took care of each other; we watched each other’s backs, you know, all the children.  You know, so they all knew me, ‘cause I went on vacations, yeah, and stayed there. And then, I went to fourth grade. My mom decided she wants me to go to fourth grade to Halawa Intermediate, or whatever.  And I got kicked out of the school because I got into a fight.

 

With whom?

 

With a girl.  I went on detention.  I’ll never forget that big Peterson Field.  We had to crush all the white chalk, and then we had to pour the chalk, ‘cause it was a baseball field; yeah?  So, we had to put the chalk in.

 

Now, what was the fight about?

 

I’m so embarrassed to say that.  But yes, I was a naughty girl.

 

What was it about?

 

Oh, well, this girl was rocking her chair, and she kept bumping to me, and I was sitting in back of her.  And she had long braids.

 

Uh-oh. 

 

And she kept telling me to shut up.  You know, kept telling me to shut up, and she kept banging me.  So, I grabbed her hair, and went boom, right down, and I finished her off.  And then, I got into big trouble.  Oh, my god, I got called in.  And then, a note was sent home to my mom, so my mom sent me right back to Molokai, which is what I wanted anyway.  I wanted to be with my grandparents.

 

And you didn’t really mind the disruption?

 

No.

 

When you went back to the school, did you worry about another run-in with her?

 

Oh, no; it didn’t bother me.  She was scared of me already.  I don’t even remember her name.

 

Well, what about a bigger bully; did you ever have to deal with that?

 

Yes, I have.  Yeah, I have.  But the problem is, I’m not afraid of anybody.  You know what I mean?  So, I got into trouble, yeah.  But it’s okay.  You know, it’s cool.  Yeah.

 

I remember one story, when I was going to Radford.  And this one girl got into a phone conversation with me, and she was from a bad district.  I won’t even say where.  And so, she wanted to meet me in Foster Village, ‘cause I went to Radford; yeah? So, I told my friends, I said: Hey, you folks coming with me, there’s gonna be a big fight.  And they said: Yeah, okay, okay, we’ll come.  Nobody showed up; only me.  So, was waiting on the corner.  I wore my sweater and, you know, put my hair in a ponytail, I made sure I was—

 

You were ready.

 

–all ready; oh, yeah.

 

Can’t pull it; right?

 

So, I thought to myself: Yeah, okay.  So, I waited and waited, and nobody showed up. Years later, I was performing at the Garden Bar, Hilton Hawaiian Village, and the waitress comes to me: Oh, Melveen.  I was really skinny at that time, but before, I used to be hefty; yeah?  And I used to lift weights and I took, you know, martials arts and stuff.  But anyway. And so, she said: Oh, Melveen, there’s a couple over there that wants to see you, and they want to say hello.  And I said: Oh, okay.  Was dark; yeah?  So, I went up and I saw this massive woman in the dark, and her skinny little husband next to her.  And I said: Yes?  And she said: Eh, you remember me; my name is so-and-so.

 

 

I said: Let me see, the only name I know, I said, was long time ago.  She said: Yeah, that was me.  And she had tattoos on her arms.  And I went: You?  And I said: You know, I showed up that day.  She said: Yeah, I know; we saw you.  And she said: I told my friends, Anybody can show up by themselves, they must be good, they must be, so we took off.  She said: We just left, we left you alone.

 

That’s right; you kept the date and stayed there, even though you didn’t—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–have any backup.

 

Yeah; knowing I was gonna get beat up anyway. You know what I mean?  But oh, that was something I never forgot.  And we became good friends.  You know, it was really nice.  Like, whew.  Oh, god.

 

You’ve had a chance to meet a lot of people again; right?  You’ve met them at different stages of your life.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

You must have had some surprises about how people turned out.

 

Oh, yes; of course.  And you know, especially because I’ve been singing all over, and for everything, and doing a lot of charities, you know, and people that I haven’t seen.  But I remember … my classmates, I remember their names, and I remember their faces. Yeah.  And the kids that I grew up with, you know, I remember them.  And they’re amazed that I do, you know.

 

Some of them have changed a lot, so that is really surprising.

 

Oh, yeah.  Oh, listen; there was one—I must tell you about this one.  Okay; I was at a class reunion.  Now, in high school, I wasn’t that popular; yeah?  I mean, I sang and everything, you know, but because my stepfather, he was quite strict with me; yeah?  And it’s understandably so, because they don’t want me to get into trouble, you know.  So, my mom and her husband, they were really strict.  When I had to go and perform, you know, it didn’t bother me to sing in school.  And we used to go to different schools and perform.  But the thing was, this one guy I had a crush on in high school, but he never knew I was alive.  And we used to walk down the hallway, and the guys used to stand on each side of the hallway and look, and hey, and whistle at us, and we don’t pay attention.  We wanted them to pay attention, but we just walked.  And then so, years later at the class reunion, I was standing with my friends and they said: Eh, there’s so-and-so over there.  And I said: Where?  I looked, and I went: What?  He was kinda bald, and he was big, he had a big belly.  And I went: No; really?  And they said: Yeah.  I said: Follow me.  We went there, and I knew that uh, he would call me; yeah?  So he says: Eh, Melveen.  And I said: Yes?  And he says: You remember me?  And we all had our little patches on with our high school picture on; yeah?  And our little buttons, yeah, big buttons, you know. And I said: Um …  I already knew who he was.  I said: No.  I said: I’m sorry.  And I looked at his.  He said: Yes, you remember me, I was, I played football.  And I looked at his picture, I went to his face, I went to look at his picture again, I looked at his face.  I said: Oh, yes; what happened?

 

Oops. That’s the last reunion he went to.

 

I said, that’s the ultimate revenge, you know.  I was terrible but, oh, we laughed, we all laughed and it was so funny.

 

So, your mom was seventeen, but along the way, she—

 

Yeah.  My mom had a career.  Because she was working.  Oh, she had to work; she worked two jobs, you know.

 

Did she finish high school after having you?

 

No.  But she went to Farrington for a while, and then they finally gave her, her diploma. Yeah; years later, yeah.  So, it was nice.  But anyway, so she had to work.  She moved to Honolulu from Molokai.  Because in those days, it was a disgrace to have a child when you’re young. You know what I mean?  And all your family’s out there; you know that, yeah? But my mom held her head up high, and she went to work.  I give her credit; she worked hard.  Yeah. And then, she had all these children; yeah?  And she still worked.  Yeah; she worked until she retired.  And even when she retired, she went back to work again, you know.

 

What did she do?

 

Well, she was a cashier hostess at the Hilton Hawaiian—well, it was the Hawaiian Village, Kaiser Hawaiian Village before. And so, she was a cashier hostess, and then she went to the front office cashier.  And then, she went to the main office, accounting.  And so, she was always working with figures; yeah?  And she was good at that.  And then, she finally retired from that.  And then, she was working also at Leed’s Shoe Store. Yeah.

 

She was very—

 

Yeah.

 

And to have a lot of children.

 

Yeah.

 

How many children?

 

She had five; yeah, with me, five.  Yeah.  But she had four from this man; yeah.  And then with me, five; yeah.  But she was a great dresser.  I think that’s why I like to dress up, you know, because my mom was like that.  She never left the house not looking nice. She was a beautiful woman; very gorgeous.

 

Tell me, did you know your biological dad?  Was he in your life?

 

I learned about him only when I was about fifteen years old.  That’s when I knew who my real father was.  ‘Cause it was kept a secret from me.  Walter Chun Kee; that was my dad.  He was from Maui.  And then I found out I had siblings on Maui.  So, I have one sister and three brothers.  And so, one brother, we lost; that’s Jimmy.  So, I found that we have siblings, siblings there.  And then, we found one more sister in Puerto Rico.  My dad was busy.  My mom never married my real father.

 

I see.

 

So, she married Palmer Leed.  He was from Tacoma, Washington, and he was in the Navy.  So, my mom married him.  And I was named after his brother, and he had a high official position in the Navy, and they named me after him.  His name was Melvin.  So, my real name is Melvina.  And my grandmother gave me my Hawaiian name of Ku‘uleipuanani, and then they took the name Leed.  So, that’s how I got that name.

 

Did you find it confusing to have two different families, two different islands, or did it all seem normal?

 

It was normal to me.  Yeah.  I was looking forward to seeing my mom, and my sisters and my brother, yeah, every trip that I took, yeah?  And I was lonesome for my grandparents and my uncles and aunties, you know.  And so, I’d go back home, you know.  It was like that, so I had the best of both worlds. Let’s put it that way.

 

Melveen Leed started her professional singing career when she was invited to the stage to sing with the band at the Garden Bar of the old Hawaiian Village Hotel. She soon left her secretarial job and became a fulltime entertainer, singing, recording albums, producing music shows, and traveling the world.  Yet, while Melveen’s career was hitting high notes, her personal life often too a different direction.

 

You’ve been married several times.

 

Yes.

 

Do you have stepchildren and …

 

Oh, yes.  They’re all like my children, still, you know.  Yes.

 

Lots of family, all along the way.

 

Yes.  And you know, it was a learning time for me, too.  Because I had gone down to the bottom.  I picked myself up, you know, every time and I said: I can do this. Yeah?  And I’d start from scratch.  I’d leave everything behind, and I’d start from scratch.  I mean, everything; my clothes, everything behind.  I just walked out and started from scratch.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.  It’s not easy to do, but you gotta have that willpower.  All you women out there, you can do it.  You know, you have one life to live; you push your own buttons. That’s what I say.

 

So, each time, you could have packed, you could have taken some things.

 

Yeah.  But I’m not like that.  Because they had children, so I didn’t want to take anything away from them.  And they could have my stuff.  It doesn’t matter; it didn’t matter.

 

So then, what did you do when you walked away?

 

I just started from scratch again.  I was still singing, working, making good money, you know, and I had to go on my own and find my own jobs; yeah?

 

What’s the hardest thing you’ve been through up ‘til now?  And we’re talking in March of 2018.

 

When I had to leave my daughter, and I had to move to Tahiti.  That was the hardest thing I had to do in my whole life.

 

How old was she then?

 

She was just … senior, high school.  Junior or senior.  And I had gone away to start a new life.  And it was a big mistake in my life, of course.  I realized that after, yeah, I’d gone there.

 

You were getting married.

 

Yeah; I was getting married, yeah, there.  And she came for the wedding, and I could see her face; she was so sad through the whole time, you know.  And I thought to myself: Okay, Melveen, you know, you gotta make this work.  So, what happened was, when I moved to this island, this desolate island; it was an atoll, it was called Aratika.  Because my ex-husband was the luna, the boss of that island.  And it’s a black pearl farm.  He built a house for me on that island, and there was no running water, no electricity.  So, I had to leave all my beautiful gowns and nice clothes, everything, my beautiful things back in Hawai‘i and move there with only pareaus and shorts and tee-shirt. Which I didn’t mind, because I grew up like that on Molokai.  You know what I mean?

 

Yeah; I was thinking before, you were washing your clothes in the stream.

 

And they were all amazed.  The Paumotu people there; they were amazed, even my ex-husband, that I could just adjust immediately.  Then, when I started patching their nets and throwing my net and catching my fish, they were like: Where’d this woman come from; yeah?  So, the Paumotu women would come up to me and say: How come you’re doing this; us women never do that.  And I said: Well, us Hawaiian women do back home.

 

I said: You do what you do, and if you don’t want to watch, you just go away.  So, I’m busy working.

 

Did you pull her braid?

 

No, no, no.  No. And I caught my own fish.  And then, I realized that I couldn’t stay on the island with all these twenty-seven men, alone.  It’s dangerous, you know.  So, he said: I’m gonna teach you how to free-dive, ‘cause we gotta go out fishing.  So, he had a floater on the top, and a rope with knots every so many meters, and down to fifty feet where the big block of cement was on the bottom, sat on the bottom. And my graduation was to go down fifty feet and grab that sand, and bring it up to him, before I could go and fish. ‘Cause I wanted to spearfish so badly. So, I went, and my last day he said: I’m gonna pull that up, and you can’t go out fishing with us.  I was determined.  I went down; I didn’t come back.  And he says: Okay, pull it up.  I said: No, wait; give me one more chance.  He says: You Hawaiian girls can’t do it.  I said: Oh, yeah?  Watch me. I went down, got the sand, came up, and I threw it in his face.  And then, he had a special spear made for me, and he taught me how to spear fish.  And we only caught what we ate.  And so, it was really a wonderful whole year, though, that I learned and I lived there, because I loved the cleanliness.  The water was so pristine, you know, and oh, the air was fresh, and it was wonderful.  It brought back memories of Molokai.

 

You seem like a very hopeful and optimistic person, because you got married again.

 

Yeah.

 

And then, again.

 

Yes.  I probably was looking for like, my grandfather’s image.  You know, ‘cause he was a perfect father, grandfather, husband to my grandmother.  You know, he was a great caretaker, and he was an inspiration.  And I could sit and talk to him.  He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, they were words of wisdom. You know, I look up to him.  And I finally found that man, and that I’m married to now.  Yeah. And he reminds me so much of my grandfather; very dignified, you know, and very caring, and puts me on a pedestal, puts me first like how my grandfather put my grandmother on a pedestal first.  She always came first.

 

Okay; you have to tell us how you met him, then.

 

My husband?

 

Yes.

 

Mike?

 

Mike.

 

We knew each other when I was fifteen years old. When we lived in Halawa Housing, when I was on my vacation, I was only fifteen, and his sister lived right next door to us.  So, that’s how we met.  And then, we didn’t see each other until years later.  I was singing at Chai’s, and he walked in with all of his siblings; yeah?  And his family, and they sat there.  And he was well-dressed.  He’s always well-dressed.  And so, we said hello, but nothing, you know.  I said: Oh, hi.  You know, he came, and I was setting everything up.  He comes on stage, and he says hello to me, you know, and hugs me, and I said, oh, okay.  So, after the show, I usually go and eat at a place; this cook always cooks for me in this small little bar.  And so, I said: Oh; what are you gonna do?  You know.  No; I think he asked me what I was gonna do after the show.  And I said: Hang out with you.  I think that’s what I said.  Yeah?

 

So, that means you made the first move?

 

I think so.  So, I said: Well, I’m gonna go eat; you know, you folks can come out, you know. So, I jumped in his car, and so we went to that place, and we sat together, and we laughed and everything. And then, we started emailing each other.  We exchanged emails, and stuff.  So, that’s how it started.  Yeah. Was really nice.  And after a year, then he proposed to me on one knee.

 

Tell me; was Michael wary of you because there had been several husbands. Three others.

 

You know, I think because he’s so mature, and he’s a smart, very intelligent man, and he had a very good position—he’s a retired quality assurance director for the nuclear subs for the Navy and federal government, and he had a very high, important position.  So, he had a thousand people working under him.  You know, he knows exactly what he wants, and he’s very consistent.  And not only that, he’s very clean and he doesn’t leave a stone unturned.

 

Even if your career had ended twenty-five years ago, you would have had an illustrious career.

 

Yeah; I did.  Yeah.  But you know what?  Getting to where I am now, yeah, if it weren’t for all those curves that I’ve had in my life, I would not be the person that I am today.  Yeah.  And what I love about now is that I have the love that I’ve always wanted, from my husband. You know?  He truly deeply loves me, for me.  And I love that.  You know.

 

You feel like you didn’t really have that before?

 

Not fully.  Something was missing.  But now, it’s just all there.  Everything in the puzzle is there; that last piece is there.

 

In her mid-70s, Melveen Leed confides she worries about losing her voice someday. Yet, at the time of our conversation in the Spring of 2018, the former Miss Molokai says as she’s gotten older, her voice has actually become stronger.  She says she’s able to hit high and low notes that were never part of her register before.  Mahalo to Melveen Leed of Mililani, Central Oahu for sharing part of your life story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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.

 

For all you Molokai people out there, this is for you. Yee-ha!

 

MOLOKA‘I NUI A HINA
Ua like no a like
Me kuʻu one hānau
Ke poʻokela i ka piko o nākuahiwi
Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
ʻĀina i ka wehiwehi
E hoʻi no au e pili
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu
Ua nani nāhono a Piʻilani
I ke ku kilakila i ka ʻōpua
ʻO kuʻu pua kukui aia i Lanikāula
ʻO ka hene wai ʻolu lana mālie

Ua like no a like
Me kuʻu one hānau
Ke poʻokela i ka piko o nākuahiwi
Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
ʻĀina i ka wehiwehi
E hoʻi no au e pili
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu
E ka makani ē
E pānei me ke aheahe
ʻAuhea kuʻu pua kalaunu

Ua nani nāhono a Piʻilani
I ke ku kilakila i ka ʻōpua
ʻO kuʻu pua kukui aia i Lanikāula
ʻO ka hene wai ʻolu lana mālie

Ua like no a like
Me kuʻu one hānau
Ke poʻokela i ka piko o nākuahiwi
Me Moloka`i nui a Hina
ʻĀina i ka wehiwehi
E hoʻi no au e pili
E hoʻi no au e pili

Woo-hoo!

 

 

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.

 

 

NĀ MELE
Hūʻewa

 

When you hear their name, you can’t help but smile. The young trio Hū‘ewa is comprised of Kupu Dalire-Na‘auao, Kekoa Kane and Kahi Lum-Young.

 

“‘Hū’ is to hum or to make sound, to make music. And ‘ewa’ is to go off course or to find your own path,” explained Hū‘ewa member Kane. “…that’s what we do with our music…we make music on our own path, on a different style.”

 

The trio performs songs including “Kaulana Ni‘ihau,” where they’re accompanied by the dancers of Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniakea; and a medley consisting of favorite songs of each member: “Kaulana Moloka‘i,” “Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua” and “Meleana Ē.” Dalire-Na‘auao explains, “The Hawaiian music that we chose, the type of songs that we chose…we just like to pull things from back in the day.”

 

 

LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER
Stephanie J. Block in Concert

 

Making her Broadway debut playing Liza Minnelli in 2003’s The Boy From Oz and fresh off her second Tony nomination for her role in Lincoln Center Theater’s Falsettos where she brought down the house with “I’m Breaking Down,” Stephanie J. Block has a special talent for showstoppers. She brings her immense voice and bold charisma to Lincoln Center for a special one-night engagement in the beautiful Appel Room. In addition to her Tony-nominated performances in Falsettos and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, she’s also appeared on Broadway in Wicked and 9 to 5.

 

 

NĀ MELE
Waipuna

 

Kale Hannahs, David Kamakahi and Matt Sproat of the acclaimed Hawaiian music group Waipuna present their interpretation of Hawaiian music, accompanied by hula dancer Jaimie Kennedy. From “Malama Mau Hawaii,” a selection from Waipuna’s first album, to “E Mau Ke Aloha,” composed by David’s father, Dennis Kamakahi, Waipuna will take you through a joyful musical cycle.

 

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