personality

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT SEASON 8
Leitis in Waiting

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT SEASON 8: Leitis in Waiting
 
PACIFIC HEARTBEAT

 

The eighth season PACIFIC HEARTBEAT provides viewers with a glimpse of the real Pacific—its people, culture and contemporary issues. From revealing exposés to in-depth profiles and unexpected histories, the anthology series features a diverse array of programs that draws viewers into the heart, mind and soul of Pacific Island culture.

 

Preview

 

Leitis in Waiting
Leitis in Waiting tells the story of Tonga’s evolving approach to gender fluidity through a character-driven portrait of the most prominent leiti (transgender) in the Kingdom, Joey Mataele, a devout Catholic of noble descent. Over the course of an eventful year, Joey organizes a beauty pageant, mentors a young leiti who is rejected by her family, and attempts to work with fundamentalist Christians regarding Tonga’s anti-sodomy and cross-dressing laws. Her story reveals what it means to be different in a deeply religious and conservative society, and what it takes to be accepted without giving up who you are.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lanai Tabura

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Lanai Tabura

 

Named for the island where he was born, Lanai Tabura is well-known for his talents as a DJ, comedian, television host, actor and entrepreneur. Now he dedicates himself to one of his earliest passions – cooking – to share aloha across the globe through food.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 
Program

 

Lanai Tabura Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I know so much about food, which is interesting. And it never came out of me until I started doing these pop-up dinners and these speaking engagements.  I did a Poke 101 class for Pinterest.  All these kids—you know, I say kids because these tech companies are all kids.  And all they know about poke is, it comes from a store.  So, I got to teach what poke really is, where it came from, how it became, and all this stuff.  And when I was done, my friends goes: How’d you know all this stuff?  I go: I don’t know.

 

So, you didn’t go look it up.

 

No.

 

You had it in your head.

 

Yeah.

 

And your heart.

 

Yes.  And your heart is the thing.  The intent; right?

 

M-hm.

 

So, I am realizing as I’m getting older, I can do anything I want, as long as there’s good intent.

 

Lanai Tabura has been doing just about anything and everything in broadcasting since his first television audition when he was six years old.  DJ, comedian, television host, actor, entrepreneur; his passion has turned to cooking, and he has dedicated himself to sharing aloha across the globe through food.  Lanai Tabura, 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.  Lanai Tabura, who was named for the island where he was born, knew from a young age that he wanted to be in front of the camera.  He became a familiar name early on in his life for being a disc jockey at a popular radio station, and then for his comedy.  It wasn’t until later that he became known for his cooking, and rose to national attention when his team won the Great Food Truck Race.  Yet, cooking was one of his earliest life lessons. Lanai had to grow up quickly when his father left, and his mother went back to work.  As the oldest child, home responsibilities fell to him.

 

I grew up on a plantation.  My father left when I was young.  Three brothers.  And my mother said one day: I gotta go to work, I can’t stay at home with you guys anymore; you’re gonna have to step up.  What does that mean, you know, at twelve years old.  Step up; what do you mean?  I’m not gonna be home ‘til nine, you gotta cook dinner.  Cook dinner?  I’m twelve years old.  For three kids.

 

And how old were your brothers?

 

Makani, who’s right under me, is two years younger than me.  And then, you had Adam, which was five years under him.  And then, Stevie, which is a year under him.  So, you know, the youngest were four, five years old.  And then, Makani was ten.  You know.   So, that’s tough, you know.  And you grow up on an island where there’s not a lot of … which I think was good.  There was no fast food.  The stores closed at six.  I think the life-saver about our grocery store; you could charge.  Remember those days where you go: Oh, put it on the Tabura’s tab.

 

Exactly.

 

My mom’s tab.  And at the end of the month, you get the bill; right?  And then, you can divvy up.  But my father left with every penny in the bank and the clothes on his back.  Left us in a two-bedroom house, plantation style.  And we had nothing.  Zero, you know.  I remember when we applied for welfare, I was so embarrassed.  ‘Cause it’s Lāna‘i; everybody knows your business.  I was like: Mom, I can’t take this book to the store; people are gonna know we’re on welfare.  Today, they have a credit card.  Back day, they were pages of books.

 

But they also knew your dad had left.

 

Yes.

 

They knew everything.

 

Everybody did; everybody did.  He went to the airport and left the car.  For two days, we didn’t know where he went.  Two days, you didn’t know where he went, and then we found the car at the airport.

 

Did you ever reconnect with him?

 

Never.

 

You ever want to?

 

No, but I forgave him.  There was a point in my life where I was so angry about it. There was a point where I would go in the bathroom in high school, and cry.  ‘Cause like: Why, why?  What’s wrong this guy?  You know. And all that anger, of course, built up to bitterness.

 

And bitterness really poisons you, too.

 

That’s the word; very bitter.  And then, I was on a cover of a magazine.

 

Why?

 

I think it was for a TV show I did.  I was in my early twenties.

 

Okay; early twenties.

 

Yeah.

 

Got it.

 

It was a TV show I did, and I was on this cover. And he saw the cover, and he was in the mainland, and he wrote to the editor and said: I think that’s my son, I need to get ahold of him.  The editor wrote me like five times before I finally wrote back and I said: Yeah, that is my dad, you can send me his info.  So, the only contact I’ve had with him was through two emails.  One was him apologizing to me for what he did, and mine was forgiving him for what he did.  And I said: That’s it; you’ve finished this chapter for me, ‘cause now I feel this pressure is off, and I feel that I can move on now, the bitterness is gone.  I said: If you want to contact my brothers, it’s up to you and it’s up to them, ‘cause we’re all adults now.  So, that was my last contact with him.

 

Did he try to reach your mother?

 

No; and you know, my mother is not the type to talk bad about anybody.  So, she always made it open.  You guys want to talk to him, you can call him; you want to see him, you can see him. ‘Cause he will always be your father. But to me, a father has a different meaning.  He’ll always be my dad.

 

Right; that’s a verb.  Right? It’s what you do.

 

Yeah.

 

So, really, these are really formative things that happened to you.  I mean, things that change you.

 

Big time.

 

So, you were twelve years old thinking … Where’s the food that I’m supposed to cook for dinner?

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, if it wasn’t for my grandparents, who taught us how to grow vegetables, I don’t think we would have survived.  And my grandfather really became the father figure, even though he was a very harsh man.  He was Mr. Miyagi; everybody called him Mr. Miyagi.  He would teach you through lessons; he wouldn’t tell you.  He wouldn’t tell you that the fire is hot. He’s gonna give you a lesson, you know, or he’s gonna somehow drum up something so you go through the experience, so you get the lesson.  And then, he’ll ask you after.  That kinda guy; very old school.

 

Did you learn well that way?

 

Lots.

 

Was that a good way for you?

 

Yeah; I think so.  Now that I think about it, yeah.  But at the time, I’m like: God, you—

 

Why doesn’t he just say what he means?

 

Yeah; yeah.  Why don’t you say, you know.  I remember when I was a junior in high school, I wanted to go to junior prom. And my mom said: You can’t; we don’t have any money.  Expensive, you know, a tuxedo and everything.  And my grandfather was listening to the conversation.  And he goes: Hey, come outside.  So, I go outside.  He goes: You see this cabbage; not growing good.  Help me.  I said: What do you need me to do?  We need to till the ground.  Start tilling the ground.  Next thing you know, it’s an hour in, I’m sweating.  I’m like: How did I end up tilling cabbage?

 

What’s going on here?  Next day he goes: Tomorrow, I going come back here one o’clock. You help me; we’re gonna plant new cabbage.  So, he shows me how to plant cabbage.  This goes on for, you know, three, four months.  Comes time for junior prom.  Boy, come outside.  He goes: I need you to help me pick the cabbage; too heavy, my back sore.  I get a big bag, fill up the bag with cabbage. Let’s go to the store.  We go to the store, we sell the cabbage.  Look at all the money; I go: Grandpa, look at all this money.  What are we gonna do with it?  He goes: You go to the prom.  Three-month lesson.

 

Yeah; that is a great formative lesson.

 

Yeah.  But he did a lot of stuff like that.

 

And then, how did you learn to cook it?

 

Trial and error; trial and error.  Salt and pepper, you know.  That’s all you had.  It’s not salty enough, put more salt.  You know.  Too much pepper, put less pepper.  And then, of course, you watch your grandparents cook, you watch your mom cook when there were those days.  You really paid attention, ‘cause you didn’t want to just eat Spam and rice every day. You got tired of Spam and rice every day.

 

Did you think it was drudgery, or did you enjoy this?

 

You know what?  I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it.  It became a competition amongst the brothers.  You know, my third brother Adam became an amazing chef.  He cooked for Steve Jobs.  He’s cooked for all these different celebrities.  You know, we won the Food Truck Race because of him.

 

So, this life event that could have really unnerved you and really put you on a bad trajectory, it actually turned out to be something that became embedded in your life and a springboard.

 

The biggest blessing in disguise.  Everything happens for a reason.  And I think things would be much different if my dad was in my life.  And it could be way better, it could have been worse.  It would have been a different path, for sure.

 

Lanai Tabura wanted to be on television from the time he was a little boy.  After graduating from high school on Lāna‘i, he headed to O‘ahu to attend Hawai‘i Pacific University.  He didn’t stay long, though, because he found a new passion.

 

I went to a floor wax audition.  And it was a thousand kids, and my cousin ended up getting it.  But I was so fascinated by the concept of it.  Like: Wait, do it again?  What do you mean do it again?  You know. I was like six or seven years old. And I was so fascinated about the concept of you can be in front of this thing, and then people can watch it later. And I was fascinated about television, and I was fascinated how people can act like somebody else.  And then, you started watching television, I started watching Checkers and Pogo, and I started watching Andy Bumatai, High School Daze, and I started watching Booga Booga.  And it fascinated me how they can make people laugh, and how they can act like somebody else and make people laugh.  That was the fascination, I think.  I never thought I’d do standup comedy.  I started doing standup comedy ‘cause of James Grant Benton, Augie, and Andy. That was just a hobby.  I wanted to do standup comedy because of the timing; the timing part of it.

 

Which is the hardest part.

 

Yes.  And I found out that if you can master the timing, you can say anything you want. You can act, you can host, you can do interviews.  You know, radio really helped me with the timing part on interviews as well.

 

How did you get to O‘ahu to do all of this?

 

I had a scholarship, believe it or not, for volleyball. Hawai‘i Pacific University, Nahaku Brown did a clinic on Lana‘i, and I was a pretty good volleyball player.

 

You were all-state.

 

Yeah.  Oh, thank you.  Nobody knows that.  But anyway, she was offering a management scholarship, ‘cause they were gonna start an NCAA team.  Turned into a club team.  I got into radio at the same time, and then kind of moved out of it.

 

What’s a management scholarship?

 

They offer a couple scholarships for people to help with volleyball teams, like the women’s volleyball team.

 

Oh, I see.

 

So, you know, the guy that sets up the court, and you know, gets the water, and you know, gets ready for game day, gets the uniforms ready.

 

She saw your business side.

 

Yeah.  Yeah. Thank you, Nahaku.  But yeah, she really is the one that got me to Oahu.  ‘Cause we couldn’t afford college at all.  My mom was pissed when I dropped out.

 

Why did you drop out?

 

Radio.  When I started, my first day of college was my first day of my radio gig.

 

Oh …

 

Yeah.

 

There was competition between the two.

 

And it took over.  It took over not a little bit; it took over a hundred percent.  I was so fascinated by radio.  Again, I can tell people what to do, and they don’t even see me.  This was pre-Facebook, My Space, social media.  So, you know that everyone’s listening to you.  We had a twenty-one share at night, which was like three out of every five teens listening to us at night.

 

That’s phenomenal, because there were so many radio stations.

 

Yes.

 

I think we have the highest per capita in the nation.

 

Yes.  We did; there was like thirty radio stations for a million people.  You know.  But I was so fascinated by radio, and that was it.  I was indulged in it, you know.

 

And it paid you, too.

 

It did.  And that was the other thing; it paid me.  Right?  College wasn’t gonna pay me.  Working part-time at San Francisco Rag Shop was paying me pennies.  And being in radio, my first year was minimum wage, but after I proved that I could do what I could do, ho, I was living it up.  You know.  I had a car, I had a house, a condo.  I had a tab everywhere I went, because everybody wanted you to talk about their bar or their restaurant.  You know.

 

And yet, did you foresee what would happen to radio?  I mean, it hasn’t died like many people predicted.

 

No.

 

But it’s not the same; it’s a lot of consolidation and recorded voices.

 

Yeah.  There was one thing that I really … I really saw clearly, that it was gonna come to an end for me.  I saw it ten years before.  I’m still in radio, by the way.  I do shows in Japan.  But the actual twenty-four/seven, nine-to-five, working in radio every day, I saw it ten years before it even came.

 

You knew you would be recording your voice, and it would be played on different channels.

 

Yes; yeah.  I seen it.  ‘Cause now, I can eliminate that person, I can eliminate this person.  So, unless you were at the top of the food chain, you weren’t gonna get paid, ‘cause you were gonna be one of the people eliminated. Right?  So, I started my TV career, ‘cause I knew that I needed to get out of something else. And then, I started my entrepreneurship.  Try everything, what do I like, what don’t I like.

 

I wonder if one of the reasons you did the entrepreneur—I don’t know if it was innately inside you, or did you see fewer opportunities that were already created for somebody like you?

 

It was my mom.  Such a great question.  It was my mom that told me: What do you want to be?  I don’t know; I want to be on TV.  How do you know; you never try ‘em.  Right? Well, what you want to do; you want to be a realtor?  How you know; you never tried it.  You gotta try it first.  You gotta go see what it is first.  What if you don’t like the format?  What if you don’t like how it works?  What if you don’t like the politics of it?  You know.  What you going do?  That’s why until today, I was like, if I get opportunity—I look at everything as opportunity, by the way.  If I see opportunity, I’m gonna go dig into it.  I’m gonna go dig, and hey, how does this work?  I want to try.

 

And you’re willing to give your time to try it out?

 

Yeah.  I could die tomorrow.  I could die tomorrow; and then what?  My best friend died when he was thirty-five, and it was another huge lesson to me to try things.  Don’t be afraid.  I’m always gonna pay taxes, I’m always gonna work, so why not try it.  You know.  I commend people who can do something for thirty years, forty years, you know.  But it’s kinda not for me.

 

So, if you had a choice between a good, steady job and this tantalizing opportunity that you didn’t know if it would pay off, what would you do?

 

Tantalizing, one hundred percent.

 

Yeah.

 

A good, steady job is boring to me.  And it’s for other people.  You know, I commend you again.  That’s good, if you could.  I wish I could, because it’s security; yeah?  But it’s so boring to me.  It’s so boring.  I have so many wealthy friends that have been doing the same job for a long time, and they’re miserable.  They ask: What are you doing now, how come you’re doing this?  It’s like they tell me: I live vicariously through your social media, or your Instagram or, you know.  And it’s not that I’m trying to brag about what I do or anything.  I just do stuff that I love to do.  I want it to be fun.  Everything has to be fun.

 

And you’ve made it pay off for you.

 

It’s going to pay off.

 

It’s going to pay off.  Six years ago, I went bankrupt.  I lost three houses.  I think I had four cars.  For what? It was nothing, cars were nothing, the houses were nothing.  But it was a huge lesson, and I’m still going through that lesson, you know.  So, now, I have a new guard.  How do I not go through the same mistake; right?

 

Well, maybe you were trying to control circumstances before, and now you try to control yourself. 

 

Yeah; that’s what it is.  It really is.  I never had money before, and when you hear these stories about people who won the lottery or have done good.  You know, Larry Price always used to tell me: You’re not going get rich yet.  And I go: Why you always tell me that?  He goes: ‘Cause you need to learn, still.

 

Oh …

 

It’s not your turn; it’s not your turn.

 

So, did you just go crazy because you had available money that you didn’t before?

 

Oh, yeah.  And I went crazy in a sense of not just for me; taking care of other people. Which I should have … you know, I didn’t have kids.  I wasn’t prepared for that.  Nobody teaches you that.  You know, no one teaches you about taxes.  In school, they don’t teach you that.  No one teaches you that it can run out.  No one teaches you that this job can end.  You know, that kinda stuff.  So, I’m going through it every day still, today.  I think I’m gonna be that guy that doesn’t retire; for sure.  I love to work.  So, I’m gonna be working.

 

But you are gonna save money; right?

 

I’m gonna; yeah.  I started.

 

Because that’s the thing, is when you’re always living hand-to-mouth, regular savings is not a …

 

Yeah.

 

It’s not something on your list, because you don’t have it to save.

 

Yeah.  And it’s not part of your ritual, it’s not part of your everyday thing.  Because you never had it.  You know, I never had it.

 

And then, you assume if you have it, life will be easy.

 

It’s not easier.  It doesn’t get easier.  I think it gets harder.  You know, more money, more problems.  You know. It’s funny, ‘cause when you get more money, you think: Okay, now I can get the things that I need.  You know.  Or I need to get that, or I’ve always wanted to get that, I need it. You really don’t need it.  You know.  You need toothpaste and you need toilet paper.  Okay, I’m paying my bills, my kids are okay, I’m paying their bills, I have enough to pay for them to go to college.  Do I want to be wealthy-wealthy?  That’s starting to turn.  Before, if you asked me ten years ago.  I want to be wealthy, I want to be one of the wealthiest guys in Hawai‘i. Now it’s, I want to be one of the most happiest guys, and I want to be doing what I love to do guys in Hawai‘i.

 

In 2013, Lanai Tabura and his team entered Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.  They traveled more than four thousand miles across the country in their Aloha Plate Food Truck in a competition to see who could make the most money.  Well, their team won, thanks to the support of thousands of former Hawai‘i residents who came out to support them.

 

You know what’s so interesting about that whole race was the word aloha.  I’m gonna keep coming back to it, but the word aloha.  This is what happened.  I’m not gonna tell you the whole story, but what really happened was, what clicked it, and what sparked it, that Coconut Wireless, was one text.  I text Brook Lee, Miss Universe, good friend of mine: I am going to Idaho, I don’t know anybody in Idaho; do you know anybody in Idaho? That one text created this phenomena of thousands of people showing up to a food truck to support people they don’t know.  Why?  Nobody knew what was going on, nobody knew.

 

That’s right; the show wasn’t on at that point, right?

 

No; it wasn’t on.  Those thousands of people that you didn’t see on the television, because they thought we were cheating, showed up because they wanted to eat. They wanted to eat Hawaiian food, in the middle of Idaho, that they haven’t had for a long time.  People from twenty years transplants that lived in Idaho, fifteen years or what have you, people going to school showed up.  And I’ll never forget; I was in Minnesota, it was twenty degrees, raining sideways.  We went to an ice cream shop, and there was a guy who comes out with a University of Hawai‘i hat.  And he looks up at me, and he goes: Lanai, what are you doing here?  And I go: We’re doing this food thing, and I’m looking for a place to park.  I couldn’t say anything.  He said: What do you mean, this food thing?  Oh, we have this food truck, and bla-bla-bla.  He goes: Come here tomorrow, this is Grand Avenue, everyone will be here shopping.  I said: Really?  I said: You from Hawai‘i?  He goes: No, the girl who owns this ice cream place is from Hawai‘i, my ex-girlfriend. What?  Yeah.  He goes: I love Hawai‘i, I going tell all my friends come tomorrow; park over here. We show up; about two hundred people waiting in line, tents, raining sideways, it’s twenty degrees.  Who are these people?  We take about forty-five minutes to prep.  I walk out.  And I did this in every city; I would go down the line and I would thank people for coming and let them know we’re gonna open soon.  There was a lady, she’s gotta be in her seventies, and I said: I want to thank you for coming.  She goes: No, no, no; I want to thank you.  And I said: Thank me for what?  She goes: I’ve been living here for twenty years, and I never knew this many people from Hawai‘i live in Minnesota.  You guys know what you did?  I go: What do you mean, know what we did?  She said: You brought all of us together, through food.  And I was like: Holy moly, I never thought of it like that; right?  Where were we?  We were in the capitol of Spam.  Spam is made in Minnesota.  Right?

 

Then it’s a genetic connection.

 

Yeah.  There was another connection; Spam is made in Minnesota.  I meet this guy Matt, who helps us with the parking and everything, and I said: What are you doing here?  He said: I came to school here and ended up working here; I created a group called The Frozen Ohana.  And I go: What’s The Frozen Ohana?  He goes: Twenty-five hundred of us that get together every three months and have a barbecue, because we homesick.  And I go: Homesick from where?  He goes: From Hawai‘i.  I go: There’s that many people here?  He goes: Yeah.  And that’s what happened in every city.  I have a story for every little city, but that one was halfway into the race, and that one when it clicked in.  This is why people came together, ‘cause of the food and the Aloha that they wanted to share with their friends and their neighbors.

 

Plus, they wanted to support somebody who was on a quest.

 

Yes.

 

A Hawaiian on a quest.

 

Yes; totally.

 

So, are you using what you learned from that to do your pop-ups now in different cities all over the place?

 

I’ve been on this new journey because of it, of teaching aloha.  I have this passion for aloha.  I have this passion for teaching people that if you have aloha and good intent with anything that you do, you can do anything that you want.  You know what I mean?  You can be the best at anything you want, because you enjoy it.  You know, find what your passion is, and do it with good intent and aloha.  And that’s what I’ve been on this journey through with the food.  I’ve been teaching it through food subliminally.

 

I can see how you do it.

 

Yeah.

 

So, what’s an example recently of aloha through food?

 

I’ve been doing these pop-up dinners with different chefs.  And I sit with them, and we create the menu.  And the menu is always gonna be the plantation days and the migration of immigrants that came to Hawai‘i.  From Hawaiian food is the first dish, to Chinese, to Japanese, to Korean, Portuguese, Filipino.  You know. So, I walk through the timeline of it, and I figure out, will this dish represent that community or immigrant that came to the plantation.  Yes, it does. All right; now we’re gonna create a story behind it.  So, when you come to my dinner, you’re not gonna just have dinner; you’re gonna get an experience.  And the experience is gonna be the story of when the Chinese came in the late 1700s to trade sandalwood with Kamehameha, and then they introduced us to noodles and rice.  And when the Japanese came and introduced us to teriyaki sauce, and the musubi, and that’s how the Spam musubi came about.  And the Portuguese gave us oil and batter.  And the oil and the batter, they saw the Japanese guy eating raw shrimp and they said: You cannot eat that raw.  And they grabbed the shrimp and dipped it in the batter and in the oil. That’s why when you look at an okazuya, it’s flat, our tempura.  The Japanese took it one step further and put panko.  These stories is the way that I’m gonna get to you and share what aloha means. At the end of the day, all these plantation workers got a kau kau tin.  They sat in a circle, hot rice in one hand, hot food and vegetables in the middle.  And the Japanese said: Yeah, try my musubi.  And the Chinese said: Yeah, that’s noodles, try my noodles.  What did it do?  It brought us together.  And the Hawaiians taught us how to share, which is aloha.

 

Since he and his team won The Great Food Truck Race, Lanai Tabura has developed a passion for teaching aloha through food.  Whether it’s through his cooking shows or his pop-up dinners, he says he’s on a mission to share aloha.  Mahalo to Lanai Tabura for sharing his 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.

 

I have kids.  I want my kids to live in a better world.  It’s a tough world right now, you know.  So, my whole thing is, how am I gonna use what I have built to help people.  My mom has done it her whole life; she still does it today.  My grandparents did it.  You know, my grandmother would make a big pot of chili and feed everybody. You know.   And then for years I’d go: Grandma, how come there’s all this Tupperware on the table?  How come you feeling everybody?  She goes: Never mind, you just bring this to Uncle’s house next door, you bring this to Auntie’s house.  That was how we lived on the ahupua‘a.  That’s how we shared, that was aloha.  Right? We have to bring that back.  We’ve made life too difficult.  So, I don’t want it to be difficult; I want it to be simple.  Ah, maybe I’m dreaming.  But I think I’ve made a pretty good start.

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Amelia Earhart

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Amelia Earhart

 

The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart was one of America’s first celebrities. After only a few years as a pilot she became the best-known female flier in America, not only for her daring and determination but also for her striking looks and outspoken personality. Three weeks before her 40th birthday Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, and her story became legend.

 

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AMERICAN MASTERS
Joseph Pulitzer

AMERICAN MASTERS: Joseph Pulitzer

 

Discover the man behind the prizes. A journalist who became a media mogul with an outspoken, cantankerous editorial voice and best-selling newspapers, Joseph Pulitzer championed what he regarded as the sacred role of the free press in a democracy.

 

Preview

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Skylark Rossetti

 

Original air date: Tues., Aug. 12, 2008

 

Radio Personality

 

Leslie Wilcox sits down to share stories with a delightful woman with a beautiful voice – Honolulu Skylark.

 

This popular radio personality, whose real name is Jacqueline Rossetti, reflects on her early influences and what would become pivotal experiences in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance – visiting Kaho‘olawe with George Helm and others, co-founding the Nā Hokū Hanohano Awards, hosting the Merrie Monarch Festival for over 30 years, and being named Outstanding Hawaiian Woman of the Year (1984) and Hawaiʻi Broadcaster of the Year (1991).

 

Skylark Rossetti Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no, and welcome to Long Story Short on PBS Hawaiʻi; I’m Leslie Wilcox. The Honolulu Skylark. I remember the first time I heard her on the radio. It wasn’t just the beauty of her voice, or the image of a Skylark, that held me. It was her knowledge and understanding of Hawaiʻi people, music, history, values. In the radio industry where companies and personnel tend to come and go, the Honolulu Skylark has made a lasting impression. We’ll catch up with her next.

 

The Honolulu Skylark is Jacqueline Rossetti. Her warm voice and warm personality became a fixture in island radio in the mid-1970s. Since then, she’s been named Hawaiʻi Broadcaster of the Year and Hawaiian Woman of the Year. And today, she lives and works on Hawai‘i Island where she’s known simply as “Skylark.”

 

When people talk about you, they say, popular radio personality, Honolulu Skylark, or beloved personality. And they say something with you that I don’t hear about them saying with other DJs; it’s influential radio personality. What happened? What did you do?

 

I think I listened, Leslie. I had a passion and care for keeping our culture alive. I wanted to know why songs were written; I didn’t want to just hear the songs. I wanted to talk to the composers. And so I armed myself with going out and meeting them, caring about why they wrote a particular song, what inspired them. I wanted to hear about the careers of people that I had heard their music over the years. One of my favorite people, Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, his big band, syncopated swing era; I loved that. And so he said, Why would you want to be interested in talking to me? I said, Because you did this, you were the ambassador of good cheer in the 30s. Why did they call you that, Uncle Alvin? And so I would sit with them, and they would tell me their stories.

 

Well, you’re going back to the 30s now. How did you know about them?

 

Well, because I had old 78s; I collected records. You know, Mom kept her collection, and that’s what started my collection. ‘Cause she would have to practice her hula to these old recordings. And so I started listening to them, and I loved the swing era, and I loved that sound of Hawaiian music with big band. And so, when I had the opportunity to seek these people out, I wanted to make sure that their stories were told, or that somebody could you know, share them with the rest of the audience so that we could all learn about that era of Hawai‘i.

 

At that time, was there Hawaiian music on the air?

 

There was one station, and that’s why I was so excited about getting an opportunity to work there, was KCCN. They were the only —

 

AM?

 

It was an AM station; it was from sunrise to midnight. And it went off the air at midnight, and it was an opportunity to share. And I have to laugh, because back then, it was the other side of Hawaiian music, as Krash Kealoha, who was the program director at the time, would call it. They were doing the Funky Hula, and they were doing you know, all this different kinds of hapa Haole, almost, music. And I wanted to bring back the Hawaiian, the traditional Hawaiian. I wanted to hear Genoa Keawe on the radio again, ‘cause she wasn’t being heard. I wanted to hear some of the traditional music.

 

And did they think that old school, it wouldn’t —

 

They did.

 

— draw an audience —

 

And they said —

 

— people don’t care.

 

No; and I kept saying, No, they do want to hear about this. I want to play chants; I opened my show every morning with a chant, because I felt that was important for us to hear that we came from, you know, beats and chanting before. And every program that I watched as a child growing up, with Aloha Festivals, you had a chanter come out and welcome everybody; and I wanted that when I performed and did my radio show. So I would open my shows with chants, and explain what those chants were about. And people started to listen, you know. They hadn’t heard the language translated in quite sometime.

 

And then you would get a chance to do something that radio executive Mike Kelly would say, changed the radio landscape of Honolulu forever.

 

 

Is that putting it—Hawaiian music—on the FM then?

 

Yeah.

 

You know, somebody didn’t want it; I don’t know why. They didn’t feel that Hawaiian music was worthy enough for FM, or something; I don’t know. Every format had been covered in FM, but Hawaiian music. And I said, Why don’t you put Hawaiian music on the FM band? And they said, Well, will you do it? I said, Absolutely. Why shouldn’t it be on the FM band? Well, what kind of music would you play? Hawaiian music. You wouldn’t put the chants on FM, would you? Yes, I would. You know. And so it was an opportunity to hear chanting, in stereo, and music that has been recorded in stereo for years but never on a stereo band. It was exciting. It was a wonderful time period.

 

A popular broadcaster today, Billy V, Bill Von Osdol, says you were his radio kumu, and he was so thrilled when you called him over to work at KCCN FM. And he said, basically, you folks built the studios.

 

We did. I mean, we hammered the nails, and we [chuckle] I mean, from the ground, up. It was nothing but an empty room and they said, Go put up a radio station in there; and that’s exactly what we did.

 

And once you got this traditional Hawaiian format going, how did it do?

 

It did really well, Leslie. I was amazed at how many people were listening. I had no idea that the young kids would gravitate to it so well. I thought, Okay, sure, we add a little color with the Jamaican music, and you know, that will keep the young kids. And then we get the kupuna and have their style of traditional Hawaiian music. But could it actually blend, and would it actually work? And it did. We did a concert at the Aloha Tower; it was the first of many which now has become the FM100 Birthday Bashes, right? And we took over Aloha Tower at the time, ‘cause it was gutted, it was empty. And I couldn’t believe how many kids showed up. We thought maybe hundred kids; there was three thousand people the first concert we threw. And it was Kapena and Ho‘aikane, and just our local bands. It was nobody, you know, fabulous to come and see; just kids that wanted to play music.

 

And pretty soon, we did these on a monthly basis. And we had to move out of Aloha Tower. We just — there was no room for us anymore. And that’s what started the first FM100 Birthday Bash at the Waikiki Shell.

 

Na Hoku Hanohano; you are a three-time award winner, and I always hear your name when people talk about the founding of the Hoku Hanohano Awards. Tell me about it.

 

It started as our small, little radio station promotion. We realized that, you know, in one year, we had double the amount of recordings. And I said to Krash, Look at this, we had thirty-six records this year recorded, and if next year it’s up to seventy-seven. And he said, We should do something about it; we should honor these people in the recording industry. And as a small, little radio station promotion, it turned into the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts, and we mimicked ourselves after the Grammy Awards because we thought that’s what we could be, a Hawaiian Grammy Award.

 

Did you have a budget for it?

 

Oh, yeah; all of three hundred dollars. [chuckle] We had to beg and barter, and back then, we you know, went to the Ala Moana Hotel and said, Do you want to have this event? And they looked at us like, Hawaiian music? Yeah, we want to honor our Hawaiian music. And it’s interesting, because people like Melveen Leed, they could walk down the street and nobody knew who they were. Now, Melveen Leed walks down the street, and she’s a star. You know, and we sort of, you know, did that; we made stars of our own entertainers that were just going unnoticed in our lifestyles.

 

You knew Brudda Iz, Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole very well. And I’ve read that you pointed out something about him, which is that he really didn’t come prepared to the studio.

 

Never.

 

And as a result, for example, in the song that has gone platinum all over the world, you know, you hear some incorrect lyrics and —

 

Lots of incorrect. [chuckle]

 

— consolidating lyrics. He changes chords.

 

Israel’s own interpretation of what the song is supposed to sing like. And it’s because he gets inspired, and you go into the studio, and he’ll just sing whatever comes to his heart. And he must have been thirteen or fourteen years old when I first met him. And they would call me up on the radio; I wasn’t at KCCN at the time. I worked at a station that — KNDI, at midnight played Hawaiian music when KCCN went off the air. And I think that’s what lured them to have me come to join KCCN, was I was doing a midnight to eight in the morning Hawaiian music show. And the entertainers were calling in and — and listening to me and —

 

And I bet Iz called you all the time.

 

He did.

 

[chuckle]

 

He and Skippy.

 

And he continued to —

 

And their group.

 

— do that most of his life, called —

 

Oh, he did.

 

— folks up, and had his say.

 

He did. He loved radio; that kept him entertained. And he said, Come on out to Makaha; I have this group, I want you to hear us. And I went out there, and there they were; just these kids in, you know, puka clothes, and just — but their harmonies and their voices, and their family unit was so endearing, and I just loved them. And I brought them to KCCN, and did their first recording, and we started playing — this was when we could play bootleg music on the air. And so that’s how they started their career.

 

And you went and sought them out, and they knew it.

 

Yeah; they did.

 

You gave them a voice they really didn’t have. But what would move you to go all the way to Makaha to talk to a couple of teenaged boys about their music?

 

Once I drove into their yard, and Mama and Daddy were out on the porch, I said, Oh, my gosh, I found myself home. And I just — you know, they were just this sweet family, opened up their hearts to us, and to me, you know, and I just, you know, I felt like home.

 

Skylark’s passion for the people and traditions of Hawaiʻi resonated with listeners at a time that Hawaiian music and culture were going through a renaissance. That’s when she really found her “voice.”

 

Well, let’s go back –

 

Okay.

 

— ‘til way before the Honolulu Skylark emerged. Where’d you grow up? What was your growing up like?

 

It was a wonderful Hawaiian family. The Mahi’s are my mother’s background; she had ten brothers and sisters.

 

Are you related to Aaron Mahi, the —

 

That’s my —

 

— former band leader?

 

— first cousin. Yeah; his father and my mother are brother and sister. There were ten children in that family, and they all had four or five children each. And so we had a wonderful family home in Kalihi, where my grandfather lived, and our families built their beach house in some property that my grandmother had right across from what we call Baby Beach Park in Ka‘a‘awa. So our family spent weekends in Ka‘a‘awa and weekdays going to schools in the Kalihi area.

 

When you say it was a Hawaiian upbringing, what does that mean?

 

When you’re in a Hawaiian family, you learn nurturing of values and living off the land. And we did things like hukilau and did our own imu and kalua pig, and you know, fished. And it was just a warm, family thing. We all slept together in the same beds, and we all bathed together. [chuckle] You know, it was that kind of a family.

 

Rossetti doesn’t sound terribly Hawaiian.

 

No, my father’s pure Italian, and Mama and Daddy met in Pearl Harbor. And he just loved our family and became more Hawaiian, almost, than my mother. She wanted to be Americanized. You know how that was —

 

That was the —

 

— back then.

 

— generation, World War II.

 

That was that generation. And Dad wanted to be Hawaiian; he wanted to learn to fish and hukilau, and you know, do all of those things. And so he gravitated more to being Hawaiian than Mama did. And he loved the brothers and sisters, and just got along very well with them.

 

And traditional Hawaiian music; when did that come into your life?

 

I think it had always been surrounded in my life. My father — and I have to give him credit, because he loved things Hawaiian. And during our raising up, Dad was involved with something called Aloha Week back then. And he surrounded us with just wonderful mentors that were our aunties. I didn’t know that they weren’t really related to us, ‘cause we always had — everybody was aunty and uncle.

 

So your pure Italian dad —

 

Yes.

 

— and not your full-blooded Hawaiian mom introduced —

 

Thank you.

 

— you to this.

 

Yes. And he was, you know, hanai’d by Auntie ‘Iolani Luahine, and Auntie Sis Wiederman, and these wonderful pillars of Hawaiiana. And they nurtured my father in this business. I remember watching Auntie ‘Iolani dancing at ‘Iolani Palace in these beautiful Hawaiian pageants. And I said, That’s what I want to do; I want to keep our culture alive.

 

I never saw her dance in person. Is it true what people said, that when she danced, it was as if something else was inside her, living through her?

 

Absolutely. Auntie enjoyed an inu, and when we were at parties, after the big pageantry, she would have an inu or two. And then all of a sudden, she’ll hear a song that somebody’s dancing or singing, and she became a whole different person. And you’d look at her like, what happened, what possessed her. And she’d just start dancing or chanting, or — she was just a marvelous woman. And then after it was pau, it was like, Oh, where am I?

 

[chuckle] And she’s —

 

And she went back to —

 

— back at the party.

 

— hanging out —

 

Yes.

 

— at the party.

 

Absolutely. And she was just a gracious, lovely lady.

 

So your dad worked for Aloha Week, or volunteered for Aloha Week?

 

It was a volunteer thing for over forty years of his life. He’s director emeritus, if you look at the — well, I don’t know where we are with that right now. That breaks my heart terribly to see an organization like that starting to fall apart on the neighbor islands. But it got to me see what life on Kaua‘i was like, what life on Moloka‘i was like. Because we would go from week to week to the different —

 

M-hm.

 

— islands, meet some wonderful people who all cared about the culture. I don’t know if you remember; we used to spend time at Ala Moana Park when there was an Ulu Mau Village.

 

M-hm.

 

And they had all the little places that you could go and visit and learn your culture, and pound poi, and watch them weave. It was just a marvelous time to grow up.

 

And later, they moved that by He‘eia Kea.

 

He‘eia Kea; but it wasn’t the same as in Ala Moana Park, where it was closer to the people, and people could come and visit.

 

And that’s what Waikiki is trying to move toward now, having lost some of that authenticity.

 

Absolutely. Yeah.

 

So here we are; going to Kamehameha. Did they infuse you with Hawaiian?

 

I think there were wonderful people up there, like Auntie Nona Beamer, who was encouraging you to, you know, learn hula and to dance. And I had always been a part of the music scene. Mama was a hula dancer with Hilo Hattie, and she toured with the Al Kealoha Perry Show and danced at the Lexington Hotel in New York. And so she — you know, she always had her music with us, and she always taught us hula. And then we went to formal training in our neighborhood where we grew up in Foster Village with Auntie Rose Joshua. So we — at the age of five, we were dancing hula and chanting, and you know, uniki’d by the age of fifteen. And you know, I didn’t know what that was back then, but it was just a part of how we grew up. You know, and how brothers and sisters would drum and beat the tin cans or the cracker cans in those days for the Tahitian music. And it was hula schools, where you learnt ancient hula, auana hula, Samoan dancing, Tahitian dancing, and Maori dancing.

 

We talked earlier about the Hawaiian renaissance. One of the highlights of that period, besides the return of traditional music, was Kaho‘olawe and freeing the island from target bombings by the military. Were you involved in that?

 

Well, you remember the gentleman who started the theme and raised the theme of Aloha ‘Aina, aloha awareness: entertainer, musician, and a dear friend, George Jarrett Helm. In fact, I named my son after him; that’s how close we were. A wonderful family of Moloka‘i. And you know, he could sing, and his beautiful voice would transcend to the kupuna. And then when he would talk to them about aloha ‘Aina, they could relate to him. And then he started to say, This island is not a distant rock; don’t bomb it. I live right there; I can hear this. It’s paining me to just watch this smoke go up. Why are we continuing to do this? And it was his thought, his vision of freeing that island from the harshness of the bombing, and watching the red dirt surround the islands; it almost looked like it was bleeding, the island was bleeding of its red dirt. And he said, We’ve got to stop this. He went to the legislature. And I’m sure you know, people can look at the history books; he gave his life for that island. And I think we were in the early stages. Women were like Auntie Emma DeFries, who I was studying under at the time, a dear friend who I grew up with up. Auntie Frenchy DeSoto said, Do you want to go to the island? And this was in the days when nobody was going to the island; they had just arrested the nine protestors on the island, and they were giving us an opportunity to go in legally and to look at the island. And I was one of those first seventeen onboard. We were called the first warriors, as they call us today, but we went to take the kupuna to see so that they could see that it wasn’t just a rock. We weren’t bombing just a rock.

 

Did you feel any mana, or anything special on that island?

 

 

Oh, you could feel the island; you can still feel the island today if you to got Kaho‘olawe. It’s just chicken skin. You were there with your camera; you saw how beautiful that island is. And you know, to walk the ancient trails, and to see, you know, poi pounders and shell carvings that you don’t see on any other island except Kaho‘olawe; it was exciting. Dr. Patrick Kirch did this whole study that we were a part of, and we looked at how the sediments of the earth and how the people — it was just m-m, magical, wonderful.

 

You’re telling me something I didn’t know. Do you think it was George Helm who bridged, you know, he went from music to cultural –

 

I think it was. I think he had this magical voice that could attract people to listen to him, and then he could tell his story. He could say, Hey, this island needs to stop this bombing. And I think that’s the way he got the message across.

 

And that was a multi-generational protest and rally, and in the end, very successful.

 

And he —

 

Except —

 

— got; yes.

 

— now we can’t free the island of all the ordnance.

 

[chuckle] And you know, it’s sad, because here we thought that was what was going to happen with all that money being dumped into — we were gonna be able to get it all off the island. And when we were there, we had no idea we were tromping around with live ordnance on the island.

 

M-hm.

 

You know, and here we are, taking kupuna and flying them from districts. And Inez Ashdown, who was raised on the island, you know, was in our party, and she was telling the story of how the goats were here, and this water tank was here. And you know, we had no idea that we were tromping her through live ordnance. But we were so passionate, and we were so excited at the time to document these stories. And Uncle Harry Mitchell being with us, and you know, him sharing his passion for the island, because his son and — yeah, it was a wonderful time.

 

Rich cultural experiences have shaped Jacqueline “Skylark” Rossetti’s life. Today she’s a single mom living in Hilo – she wanted more a country lifestyle for her children. She’s still broadcasting and still promoting the Hawaiian culture.

 

You’re still the Honolulu Skylark, but for the last almost twenty years, you’ve had a neighbor island perspective.

 

You know, it’s interesting, because I grew up on O‘ahu in a rural area, right across from Radford High School in a little village called Foster Village. And we had cow pastures in the back yard, and chickens, and so to me, moving to Hilo where my mother is from, it was almost like I had to because that’s what I wanted my children to grow up knowing, was a rural area where we could have dogs and cats, and not live in an apartment or you know, the hustle and bustle of how Honolulu had changed so. And I could go down the street, wave to my neighbor, and he would wave back to me. I mean, that’s what I grew up knowing. And that’s what I still look at Hilo – as a wonderful place to ensure that the foundation for my children was there.

 

Are you happy with the state of Hilo radio?

 

I think it’s unique; it’s growing, it’s changing. You know, we don’t command the advertising dollars that we could get with Honolulu, but we’re a unique market. And I enjoy, again, like I did with the old kupuna, going out and meeting who these people are, what they’re doing. We have wonderful farmers like Richard Ha doing some wonderful things; Barry Taniguchi, who’s had this store in Hilo forever. And you know, bringing that into the mix, where people can understand who our community is, is just endearing to the listeners.

 

Well, how optimistic are you about this Hawai‘i nei?

You know, Leslie, I am very concerned about where we’re going. I work – another hat that I wear, Leslie, is economic development. And I find that isn’t that odd, as a Hawaiian being in economic development. But if I don’t get involved and make sure that the culture is okay, then I don’t feel that I’ve done my duty here. And Hawai‘i Island Economic Development is into sustainability, is into getting back — instead of shipping everything in, growing it, making sure that our island can be sustainable. And it’s hard. You know, there’s lots of stuff going on that are influencing, lots of pressures with Mauna Kea issues, lots of pressure with water right issues. And we just had an earth shake in October of ’06 that devastated water on our island to get the cattle fed. You know; fresh water. I mean, who is going to replace those ditches? You know. It was a wake-up call for us, on the neighbor island folks – that we’ve got to ensure, you know, that we’re strong and healthy. You know how they say you’ve been at the right place at the right time? I think I was very lucky enough to be at the right place, at the right time to be able to have mentors take me in and want to train me, like Pilahi Paki is one of my – a very stalwart woman who I just admired, and who taught me so much about who we are, and what we are as a Hawaiian, and made me proud of who I was. I endear myself to people to like Moe Keale, who you know, was this big, old bear, you know, but just had that love and aloha for people, and it transcended through his music. There’s just so many people who are – influence on me, that I want to thank them for helping to shape me. Because if they didn’t share their stories, I wouldn’t have them to share with other people.

 

Of all of the musicians, the entertainers, and others you’ve come across in your career, who’s impressed you the most?

 

You know, it’s funny you would say that. There were people, like I mentioned earlier, Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs was a dear man who had that 30s and 40s era. And then in the 50s and 60s, I would have to say there were people like Ed Kenny and Marlene Sai, and those people and those voices that shaped Hawaiian music that I’ve gravitated to as dear friends. And then in the 70s, it would have to be my friend Gabby Pahinui. I loved Pops. He just transcended this down-home earthiness about him, with that little kolohe style like Israel, always getting himself in trouble with his wife. But just this raw, loving, caring person. And then, of course, my friends from when I went to high school, Robert and Roland Cazimero, and you know, we were all at school at the same time. Keola and Kapono Beamer, they were all much older than I am, but you know, that era of music too.

 

Skylark continues to share her voice and her stories, hosting radio shows and, for 30 years, the Merrie Monarch Festival of hula. She has a beautiful voice. And she is a beautiful voice, speaking with understanding and love of the islands. Mahalo to fellow broadcaster, Skylark Rossetti and you for joining me for this wonderful Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaiʻi. A hui hou kākou!

 

How would you intro a new show that you’re doing?

 

How would I intro? How about, From the snow-capped mountains of Mauna Kea, to the warm, sunny shores of Waikiki, you’re listening to Hawaiian music that will transcend your heart and deepen your soul. I don’t know; I just made something up. I didn’t know what you wanted me to do! [chuckle]

 

I wanted you to keep going! [chuckle]

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Sammy Davis, Jr.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Sammy Davis, Jr.

 

He was “Mr. Entertainment,” a show-business meteor who blazed across the twentieth century. Sammy Davis, Jr. had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, so vast and multi-faceted that it was dizzying in its scope and scale. Yet, his life was complex, complicated, and contradictory. Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me explores Davis’ journey to create his own identity – as a black man who embraced Judaism – through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress. A veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions, Davis strove to stay relevant, even as he found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America.

 

Preview

 

 

 

 

Mark Twain
Part 2 of 2

MARK TWAIN

 

Explores the other side of Twain the man—an American icon who falls hard through tragedy and bad financial decisions. An inept businessman who squanders his fortune on pipe-dream patents and bad investments, Twain turns to the lecture circuit and tours extensively, leaving behind his beloved Hartford home in an effort to pay off his creditors.

 

 

Mark Twain
Part 1 of 2

 

In his time, Mark Twain was considered the funniest man on earth. Yet he was also an unflinching critic of human nature, using his humor to attack hypocrisy, greed and racism. In this series, Ken Burns has created an illuminating portrait of the man who is also one of the greatest writers in American history.

 

 

Mary Tyler Moore:
A Celebration

 

Mary Tyler Moore “turned the world on with her smile” on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and on the silver screen. This special features classic clips plus comments from Betty White, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, John Amos, Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, and Moore herself. Plus, Oprah Winfrey recounts Mary Tyler Moore’s critical role as TV’s first independent career woman.

 

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