The Chicano Wave/Divas and Superstars


The Chicano Wave
Mexican-Americans in CA, TX and across the Southwest create their own distinct musical voices during the second half of the 20th century. Their music would play an important role in the struggle for Chicano civil rights and ultimately propel them from the barrio to the national stage.


Divas and Superstars
Explore the Latin Pop explosion of the turn of the century and the success of artists like Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan and Shakira in the English-language market. As studios concentrate on star-driven Pop, Latino youth gravitate toward urban fusions – Spanish language rap, reggaeton, as well as rock en Español.




Follow a group of senior citizens who take their first steps into cyber-space under the tutelage of teenage mentors. Their digital exploration reaches a new level in a spirited YouTube competition that reveals hidden talents and competitive spirits.


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


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


Instinct and Discipline


It took a move to Los Angeles, starting a family and a rough restaurant review for Ludo to figure out what he really wanted to do. Examine the ties between artists and their education, and how childlike wonder can, in fact, translate into a career.


The Art of the Love Song with the Annie Moses Band

Favorite Love Songs


Filmed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville Tennessee, the Annie Moses Band presents renditions of some of the greatest love songs ever written. Songs performed include “Evergreen,” “And I Love Her,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Nature Boy” and “Let’s Stay Together.”


The Cliburn


Every four years, a group of the finest young pianists takes the stage at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. The pressure on these artists is overwhelming, because the stakes are so high: prize money, concert bookings, a recording contract, a career. At the heart of this story is the courage it takes for a 20-year-old to go onstage alone before 2,000 people, and hundreds of thousands more online, and play a unique interpretation of one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the piano. The competition requires not only a transcendent musical ability, but a mental toughness that must sustain the soloist through three straight weeks of performance. The Cliburn becomes as much a test of character as a musical proving ground.


Joy Abbott


Original air date: Tues., Aug. 13, 2013


Leslie Wilcox talks with Joy Abbott, singer and widow of renowned stage producer George Abbott. Born and raised in Wahiawa, Oahu, Joy graduated from Punahou School. She attended Temple University in Philadelphia to study education, before pursuing a career in entertainment. In recent years, Abbott has written and directed several theater benefit galas, and is co-authoring a biography on George Abbott.


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And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, you know, It’s time. [CHUCKLE]


From World War II era Wahiawa to the bright lights and big personalities of Broadway, Joy Abbott has lived a glamorous life far from her roots in Hawaii. But she’s remained true to the values she grew up with, and close to family and friends back home. Her dramatic journey is next, on Long Story Short.


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


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, the Shirley Temple of Hawaii; that’s what people called the former Joy Valderrama when she was a talented kid growing up in Wahiawa in the 1930s. Little did she suspect that one day, she’d be friends with some of Broadway’s biggest stars, and married to an iconic Broadway producer, writer, and director who created scores of American stage classics, a vital man who lived to the age of one hundred seven. Joy Abbott’s parents had a lasting influence on her life. They armed her with three important gifts: an excellent education, training to develop her talents, and values to guide her.


My father said that when I was born, I didn’t cry, I smiled; so he called me Joy. [CHUCKLE] True story. Wahiawa, you know, it was just a wonderful life; food wise, for instance, organic, healthy food. My mother would actually kill the chicken herself, and she would grow vegetables and everything. So, food wise, it made a healthy childhood. A very happy childhood too, because we were always laughing.


What did your parents do for a living?


My father was a barber.


Where in Wahiawa?


In Schofield Barracks, actually. He went to University of the Philippines, and he studied accounting. He became an accountant, but he wanted to see the, quote, unquote, new world, so he came to Hawaii. My mother was a schoolteacher, but she was a traveling schoolteacher. I remember telling about her riding sidesaddle through all the barrios to teach teachers. And so, when they came here, well, she was a housewife, and my father opened one barber shop, then another, and then another. And he would be the ones to cut the general’s hair, the major, all the officers. And my uncles joined, and they managed the other barber shops.


And he got an audience with some of the top decision makers at Schofield.


Oh, my gosh; yes. He went to the general’s house to cut their hair, or to the major’s and captain’s, so he learned a lot of things from that way of living.


And your siblings?


I have three. I have Ruth, who went to Julliard; she’s the older, went to Punahou, Class of ’44. And Grace, she’s in real estate in California now. And May Ann is a tennis coach, and she had the winning Mililani team. She was married to Keola Beamer.


Not the Keola Beamer —


No; Uncle Keola.


Uncle Keola.


Uncle Keola.


So, Winona Beamer’s brother?




And Keola Beamer, the composer’s and slack key artist’s uncle.


Exactly; that’s Nona’s son. Yeah.


So, you lived in Wahiawa, which in those days was much farther away from town that it is now, because of the lack of freeways. And you went to Punahou School, which is all the way in town.




How’d you manage that? How’d you get there and back?


By bus. I remember getting up very early in the morning, and my father would wake me up and he’d take my hand and … put his whiskers. He says, Time to get up now. [CHUCKLE]


That would get you up; right? [CHUCKLE]


[CHUCKLE] And then he’d take us to the bus, my sister and I would ride the bus into town.


When you left the post school, left home in Wahiawa every day to go to Punahou, at the time, I imagine most of the students at Punahou were not only White, but they were wealthy and they were from the town area.


Absolutely; yes.


So, you were the country non-White.


Yes; we were ten percent, in those days, called Orientals, today Asians. And it was just a handful of Asians. But I never felt that, ‘cause my parents said, You know, you’re gonna make yourself in life what you want to be, as long as you work hard, achieve.


It’s up to you.


Yes; yes. We’re giving you the tools, but it’s up to you.


When your dad was a barber, and you know, he had at least an acquaintance or business relationship with generals at Schofield Barracks. And he was concerned about you getting ahead, wasn’t he?


Absolutely. Yes; my parents were all for achieving, accomplishments, and they thought that versatility would open doors. So, my father taught me tennis.


How did he know tennis?


Well, he played in the Philippines, and he coached tennis, as well as boxing and baseball. So, it was a sports family. And my mother always loved singing, dancing, and the arts. And neither could carry a tune. My father would sing Happy Birthday in five different keys to us. # And my mother loved to dance, but she just didn’t have it, so she gave us all the lessons.


So, you were in Wahiawa; where did you go to lessons?


Oh, in Schofield Barracks. Because we had this wonderful Black fellow who was a tap dance teacher, and I learned all these wonderful steps and riffs, and everything when I was just six years old. There was uh, a revue called the Jackie Suiter’s Revue [PHONETIC]. This is way, way, way before your time. And it was at King Theater, and they would have me, because they dubbed me as the Shirley Temple of Hawaii. [CHUCKLE]


Oh, is that right?


Yeah. [CHUCKLE] So, I sang these songs as part of this revue. And that was my early debut into showbiz.


And at the same time, your dad was making an athlete of you?


Oh, yes; yes. So, we’d get up early in the morning on weekends, because naturally, school, we’d go. And he would teach me and drill me, and drill me with basic strokes. And then, I’d play with my uncles afterwards to hit with them. But it opened doors, ‘cause I won the Hawaiian Junior Championship before I left for the mainland.


Were you competitive?


Oh, absolutely competitive. I think it was instinctive. When I was in a tournament, it was, Kill! No prisoners! [CHUCKLE]


And in every sport you played, you had to win?


Oh, absolutely. It was just the thing to do. That was the goal; win, win. But I was a good loser. Because my father said, You must learn to lose as a sports person, and be a sport when you lose, and you can learn from your losses, because you know what you did wrong, and then you can improve on that. For instance, in tennis. Yeah, I — I played field hockey, I was a gymnast, and I was on the swimming team at Punahou.


Do you think tennis opened doors for you?


Very much so. When I went to the mainland, I had won the Hawaiian Junior Championship. My brother-in-law, the one that was going to the Curtis, Felix, would take me out to the public parks and play. And there was this one fellow who was playing with his daughter, and grooming her for a tournament, and he was watching me. He said, Would you like to play in the National Junior Grass Court Tournament at Philadelphia Cricket Club? I said, Fine. He said, Well, we’ve been watching you play. Well, that opened doors.


And you didn’t think of saying, Oh, not me, you don’t understand.


I said, I’m from Hawaii. And he said, Well, did you win things? I said, Well, I had the Hawaiian Junior title before. He said, That’s enough. And that got me into the eighteen and under national, so I played with the likes of Maureen Connolly. I was only sixteen when I came to the mainland.


You graduated young from Punahou.


From Punahou; yes. And came right to Philadelphia, where my sister and brother-in-law lived.


To attend Temple University.


To attend Temple.


When you were at Temple, you were playing tennis. Didn’t you have an incredible tennis record at Temple University?


Yes; I’m in the Sports Hall of Fame for tennis, being undefeated the four years. Singles.


Did you think sports might be a possible career for you?


No; I was never strong enough, and I knew my limitations. ‘Cause when I played tournaments on the mainland, I’d get to quarter finals, semi finals, and things. But I’ve got a lot of trophies.


And at that point, what did you want to do with your life?


Actually, I thought I would be a teacher. I was in health and physical education, and I thought I would come back and teach here. But then, that changed my life when I decided to help my parents to put my other siblings through school. So, I went to this place called the Hawaiian Cottage, and I said, I can sing and dance if you need someone here. And so, they hired me. And so, I got this job at the Hawaiian Cottage, and I had my own trio after a while. And then, I was put on the main stage and learned Haole songs. [CHUCKLE] You know, the pop standards and Broadway. So, I did double duty. I did my Hawaiian show, and then I did the other. So, that was an influence.


So, you were essentially a businesswoman, and an entertainer at a young age.




Making enough money to help put your siblings through college.


Yes; m-hm.


You know, your father, who had to switch jobs, he moved to a new country and found he needed to change occupations. He showed a lot of resilience and versatility, and I guess a lot of hope too.


Yes. And all that hope was put into us, the daughters. Because what they couldn’t do, they thought they’d give us the opportunity to do. And it came to fruition; yes.


It sounds like you always were trying to get better at what you did.


Yes; that’s because of my parents. You achieve and you try to get better. And they taught me not to envy or be jealous. And that helped later on when I met George Abbott, ‘cause we had the same principles. And my mother and father said, Don’t envy someone, because if you accomplish and achieve the goals that you set out for and you’re successful, then you need not envy or be jealous of anyone. You can admire, and you can learn, but you know, that was a good lesson.


Joy Abbott stayed in Philadelphia after college, performing fulltime to help pay her sisters’ tuitions. And one of her sisters, perhaps unintentionally, paid her back with an introduction to the man who would be the love of her life, the legendary Broadway producer, director and playwright, George Abbott. He was the creative genius behind classic musicals such as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, and winner of multiple Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and later the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award.


He invited me to dinner. I was invited at seven o’clock. So, I came, and I rang the bell. And whoo, he opened the door himself, and I saw this tall man with silver hair, and these steel blue eyes. I’m like, Whoo. I saw him, and I said, Wow! He was six-three, tall, handsome like Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott handsome combination, and his steel blue eyes, and this beautiful smile. And I said, I’m Joy Valderrama. And he said, Good, you’re on time. That was it. ‘Cause he was a stickler for time. And so, from then on, we just hit off, and we dated for twenty-five years before we got married.


You didn’t really want to rush things.




How old was he when you met; in his seventies?




And how old were you?


I was twenty-nine.


Did that not make you a little leery? Like, why would I want to date somebody so much older than me?


No; ‘cause I didn’t think of dating at the time. I liked him right from the start, because he was handsome, and kind. And so, he would ask me on my day off to come up and so, we dated for twenty-five years.


I hope I’m not overstepping or on territory that makes you uncomfortable. But I read George’s bio in various places. And, you know, it talks about how for ten years he had a relationship with Maureen Stapleton.


Yes. It was a friendship. It was nothing untoward. And in her biography, if you read one of the paragraphs, it says, And then he met Joy Valderrama and married her, and lived happily ever after, like an old MGM movie.




That’s in her biography.


Does it bother you that in his bios that you read all over the place, there’s so much attention given to his relationship with this, you know, stunning movie actress?


Oh, not at all. Oh, my gosh. I knew he liked me, and I liked him, but I didn’t know how much he loved me until later.


So, you were okay with him dating other people?


Oh, gosh; yes. Because he would be very frank with me. He would tell me that there was nothing but … you know, and it was part of their publicity for shows.


Joy Abbott recalls that in those days, there were no parts on Broadway for Asians, and no nontraditional casting as we have today. So, she continued her performing career at the Hawaiian Cottage until George Abbott encouraged her to develop a new talent, as an entrepreneur.


He said, It’s time you stopped singing and dancing, and open your own business, and I’ll back you. So, he backed me in a dress shop. Then I opened another one; then I opened another one. You can’t just pull them in with a hook, so you have to have something to attract them. So, I started musical fashion shows, and they became so popular, I was doing two hundred a year. And I had all these professional models, gorgeous girls, modeling the clothes from my store. Well, we had some designer clothes, but a lot of ready to wear. And so, it was quite a successful business.


So, very consuming life, and very beautiful life.




Did you think about children and marriage at that point?




‘Cause in those days, that was the drill; right?


Yes. But then, I was going with George; he was seventy-two, and I was twenty-nine when I first met. And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, It’s time. And you know how he proposed?




[CHUCKLE] After twenty-five years, we were up in his country home up in the Catskills. Beautiful place up there, so serene. And he says, Joy, I have something to tell you. So, he said, Come sit beside me. And I remember it was a Sunday morning, and the pines; it was so beautiful up there. He says, I have something to tell you. My lawyer tells me I have enough money for two to live on; it’s time we got married. [CHUCKLE] I said, Oh. I said, Oh, I have to call my mother. [CHUCKLE]


You said one of the things about you and George was that despite the age difference and your different backgrounds, you had very similar values.




What were those?


A lot of the principles, again, of envy and jealousy. I was surprised to learn that. Taking life in moderation; that’s why he lived so long. He had a glass of wine for dinner. That was it; he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke.


Did he exercise, or golf? Dancing?


Oh; exercise. Exercise and work; that’s what made him live so long. Work and accomplishments, and achievements.


And that’s what you’re all about too; right?


Yes. And he had a wonderful sense of humor; just wonderful. It was a wonderful, wonderful marriage.


When Joy Valderrama married George Abbott in 1983, she sold her fashion business and moved to his main home in Florida. She took up golf and became immersed in the country club culture there, as well as the theater circuit in New York.


I was living in Florida and being part of the country club that George belonged to, Indian Creek Country Club. And it’s a wonderful social place, and for golf. Pretty exclusive, too.


You were all right giving up your business and living this life of relative leisure with George.


Leisure and social, and Broadway. When I would be going to some of the opening night parties, I said, Oh, there’s so-and-so, oh, there’s Julie Andrews, oh, there’s Carol Burnett. ‘Cause we went to their Carnegie Hall debut thing, and they had a big party afterwards. And we would be dancing, and I’d be stumbling, and everything. And I’m a pretty good dancer, but George was very serious about dancing. And so, later on when we were married, and we were at the country club, and there’s a dance and I’m dancing and I’m stumbling. I said, Oh, Cynthia, what time is our tee time? Oh, are we playing tennis on Wednesday? And I’d be stumbling. So, the next morning [CHUCKLE] George said, You know, Dear, there are three types of women who make lousy ballroom dancers. He said, Professional singers and dancers, athletes … oh, and rich women. And he said, And you are all three. [CHUCKLE]


So, you met him when he was seventy-two, and then twenty-five years later you married him.




So, he’s dancing at an advanced age.


Oh, absolutely. He loved to dance all the time. As a matter of fact, Kitty Carlisle received after a dancing date a book on how to dance, because she was such a lousy dancer. [CHUCKLE]


So, he was a very vital man.


Very vital. He was playing golf at ninety-six or teaching me. He didn’t give it up until a hundred two, and he in the Croquet Hall of Fame.


How old was he when he passed away?


Hundred seven.


And how healthy was he shortly before that? Did he maintain his health?


Yes. He had no diabetes, no cancer, no Parkinson’s, nothing debilitating. And it was just that he died of old age, but his mind was so sharp. As a matter of fact, he was dictating a scene from the second act of Pajama Game that was to be a London production two weeks before he died.


It sounds like a magical life. Do you have any regrets?


Absolutely none. We never argued, except my driving. I drove too slowly for him. [CHUCKLE] Here’s a story. When he was a hundred six, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. And he said, Oh, I think I would like to have a swimming pool in the back yard, because I’m tired of walking two blocks to Shirley’s house to do my twenty laps. And so, I contracted a swimming pool person. Well, it took so long; took instead of six weeks, six months. So, we came back from the Catskills, and there was this pool that you know, finally, finally, he was able to go in. So, the first day, he dove in, he sank to the bottom because he was all skin and bones. You don’t have flesh, and buoyancy at a hundred six. So, he comes blubbering up, and he says, Joy, get your money back, it doesn’t work. [CHUCKLE] But the reason I tell that story is, I think he wanted me to exercise. And so, he built that pool so that I would, in our house.


And do you? Do you use the pool?


Oh, yes; yes, I do.


But you didn’t settle down to a life of ease and relative seclusion as a widow. You’re on the jazz circuit.


Oh, yes. I did concerts perpetuate the name of George Abbott. I have a singing partner named Davis Gaines.


He’s known for Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.


Yes; yes, he is. And so, we would do a compilation of songs from George’s shows, and then we would do things from Phantom, Showboat, you know, other shows. And it would raise a lot of money too for people. Just not to give concerts, but we would do it for AIDS benefits, benefit for the theater community. And so, I’ve been singing since, and enjoying that life, because I don’t have to make it as a living.


What do you like about jazz? Why jazz?


Oh; because I sang with the best musicians in Philadelphia. There was Al Governor and the Candoli Brothers, and Richie Kamoku, who was part-Filipino, part-Jewish. [CHUCKLE] And he was a saxophone player from Philadelphia, and he played with Zoot Sims and all these wonderful players. And I would be privy to all that music.


What did you learn from them?


I learned phrasing, I learned pitch, and also a certain style, where I wouldn’t do vocal acrobatics, I would let the musicians underneath do that. And I would sing the songs straight, but with phrasing.


What’s your favorite song, favorite jazz song?


I don’t really have a favorite, because there are so many that are so good.


There’s none of that you hope you’re gonna be requested to do for that encore?


Oh; oh, well, gosh … Our Love Is Here to Stay is one of my favorites, and The Way We Were. Betty and I just did that for a private party, and it brings tears to your — ooh, tears to your eyes. [CHUCKLE]


You won a Hoku. And in fact, your co-winner was …


Betty Loo Taylor.


Is she about the same age?


Yes; we were both septuagenarians at the time.


Doing jazz.


Oh, yes.


On a Hoku album.


Yes; it was our first album. And how it happened was, I would come home, and Betty would have her trio at the Kahala. And she says, Come, come up and sing with us. So, I would sing. But by the way, Betty Loo and I used to do carnivals at Punahou. And so, we’d been long, long, longtime friends. When I would come back, she would say, Oh, come up and sing, or wherever she would be. And so I said, Betty, why don’t we make an album together? We’ve known each other’s style for so long. So, she said, Okay. So, I flew her up to New York, and in one week, we did this album.


Did your competitive nature ever ebb?




You still are very competitive?


Oh, absolutely. [CHUCKLE] I took up golf, as I said, when I was fifty-three. And after the first year and a half, I won the First Flight at our club, and I won it six times after.


And you still play golf, and you still are competitive with friends?


Oh, yes; yes. Between operations. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I’ve had two hip replacements, a knee replacement, a shoulder replacement, and cervical and lumbar. And each time, it improved my game [CHUCKLE] actually. But no more tennis, unfortunately, after my hip replacements.


You’ve had a very unusual life, starting in the country of Wahiawa, with immigrant parents who opened doors for you, and you pushed on those doors.


Yeah. And now, I’m able to give back, I’m happy to say. Because Templeton University is the recipient of my legacy with the royalties that I’m giving them and my annual contribution, and so they’ve opened the Joy and George Abbott School of Musical Theater.


Joy Abbott says she’s living her second life now in her early eighties at the time of this conversation in the summer of 2013. This longtime performer, businesswoman, and patron of the theater arts devotes much of her time to honoring and furthering the legacy of her famous husband. Joy Abbott divides her time between Florida, Philadelphia, and Honolulu. She keeps a condo here, and loves her Punahou School reunions. And she still enjoys Broadway, sitting in a perfect seat in the theater and going backstage. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


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.


And you’ve remained lifelong friends with your Punahou classmates with whom you were close before.


Yes. But when I tell them I’m coming in May, so-and-so, they tell everybody, Oh, Joy is coming, we better put our acts together, ‘cause we’re gonna be busy. Things like that. Now, we had just our sixty-fifth Punahou reunion, Class of ’48, and we’re the closest class at Punahou.


Encores! Great Performances at the Met

This special features 19 unforgettable arias and duets selected from the past eight seasons of GREAT PERFORMANCES at The Met broadcasts, performed by today’s greatest opera stars and talents. Hosted by soprano Deborah Voigt, the special covers a wide range of operatic ground, from heartbreak to hilarity, delivered by such artists as Natalie Dessay, Plácido Domingo, Renee Fleming, Juan Diego Flórez, Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko, and Voigt herself.


Keola Beamer



Original air date: Tues., Nov. 18, 2008


Writer, Composer & Slack-Key Guitar Master


Keola Beamer, the popular and gifted writer, composer and Hawaiian slack key guitar master says he ready to talk – for the first time publicly – about the passing of his mother, Aunty Nona Beamer. And he wants to talk – for the first time publicly – about surviving prostate cancer. It’s an emotional and revealing Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.


Keola Beamer Audio


Download the Transcript




He’s a writer, composer, Hawaiian slack key guitar master and, along with his brother, was a key player in the Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the 1970s. Today, Keola Beamer is collaborating with musical artists from around the world to combine sounds and textures, effectively creating a whole new musical genre. And Keola Beamer is also a cancer survivor – something which he hasn’t spoken of publicly, until now, on Long Story Short.


Aloha no kakou; I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. When Aunty Nona Beamer passed away in April of 2007, Hawaii lost a cultural icon a teacher, a composer, a hula expert, a champion of Hawaiian values. Today, Aunty Nona’s elder son, Keola, continues composing and performing traditional-Hawaiian and contemporary music and the Beamer family tradition of storytelling.


Well, being a part of the Beamer family was just a wonderful experience growing up, with my grandparents and my mom. We were raised on the Big Island, primarily, at my grandfather’s ranch in Waimea. So it’s very beautiful up there, very remote, no electricity, beautiful, cold, clean water that came down from the mountain.


No electricity; so how—




Howd you do your meals?


Kerosene. Yeah; kerosene refrigerator, kerosene lamps. And when I smell that kerosene smell once in a while. It really takes me back to those days when we were growing up. Used to be number six in the bath tub line. [chuckle]


Who else was using the—


Well, my cousins. And so we were all kinda raised together up there. My mom was a single mom. So she raised my brother and myself pretty much on her own, and with the help of my grandparents. So a lot of beautiful memories. I wrote some music about those days and growing up, the beauty of Mauna Kea, the mountain so alive, so present in our lives every day. Beautiful, haunting memories.


I haven’t heard very much about your dad.




Did you know him?


Not really; he left before my brother Kapono was born. And my brother and I are about a year apart, so we didn’t really know him very well. And years later, we met him, and he seemed like a nice man and everything, but we didn’t have much in common, ‘cause so many—you know, so much time had passed. I think I was thirty-six when I met him for the first time.


Did you feel abandoned?


No, I wouldn’t say abandoned. There was so much love and support from our family that we really didn’t know that’s not the way it was supposed to be. You know, we just had so much love and aloha from our grandparents and mother.


You had a father figure in the form of your grandfather.


Pretty much; yeah. He was a wonderful man, and taught us how to ride horses, and you know, rope and—pretty outdoor lifestyle up on the ranch.


Whats your first recollection of music in the home?


We were pretty much surrounded by it all the time. This was a family that was very versed in the hula, primarily, so you know, many hula recitals, and so there was a lot of music. And it was in the context of living itself. Like now, maybe we’ll go hear some music somewhere, or people will go, Let’s go hear some music. With us, it was there, you know. So you’d wake up in the morning, Sunday morning, hear the rustling of papers, somebody reading the paper, and the ukulele, then the music begins. And lot of family parties. You know, Auntie so-and-so always had this kind of interesting hula, and Uncle did this.


And Now, I know a number of girls in your family dance hula; I think all of the girls in your family dance hula.


Right; right, yeah.


What about the boys?


We were the problem children in our family. [chuckle] For some reason, the women were the carriers of the culture, dating back many, many years and many generations. My great-grandmother, Helen Desha Beamer, had to teach hula in secret, because you know, it was frowned on back in her day.


And she was also a prolific songwriter.


Oh, beautiful composer, wonderful artist. Sometimes I feel my own work doesn’t even come close to touching the hem of her skirt. She was amazing.


Did you work with her on any music?


No; because she died when I was about a year old. So I didn’t have that chance.


But you grew up hearing her music because it was kept alive in the family.


Yes; and still is. Yeah. She’s revered in our family.


How much did your mom influence you in music?


Quite a bit. And I’m amazed at how often over the years we were more than just mother and son; we were collaborators and best friends. And kupuna and haumana, and so I’d often consult her on the smallest detail of a song. You know, sometimes it’s kauna, the double meaning of things. So it’s not surface as it first might appear. So you need that kind of undercurrent of knowledge in culture in order to really interpret the work and understand that. We believe, as the Beamer ohana, that you really should try to follow the intent of the composer. You know, what does the song real—what is the composer trying to do, what is the composer trying to say. And by following that intent, you are often led in some very interesting and beautiful directions.


Which frees you to change the music?


Frees you to interpret it in a pono way, with a heart that feels like you’re doing the right thing with it.


Keola Beamer has shown that he understands intention, composition and culture. He’s written and arranged traditional and contemporary songs, published a book of short stories and begun exploring and creating a new, collaborative, musical genre. In the late 1970s, Keola collaborated with his brother, Kapono Beamer, writing and recording music on the leading edge of what became known as the Hawaiian cultural renaissance.


The time was right. You know, it was the renaissance of Hawaiian music, is the way it’s referred to now, where kids, all of a sudden, they were proud to be Hawaiian. Me too, you know. Maybe before that, not so proud to be Hawaiian. But the music helped us remember that, you know, we had something to say, and it was important, and so groups like Country Comfort, and C&K, and in those days, Sunday Manoa, Olomana—you know, this music was fresh, and it was being created by our feelings, our relations to the world at that time, and it really struck a chord with the young people in Hawaii.


Before you and your younger brother, Kapono were performing at Territorial Tavern—




–I imagine you’d done music together informally most of your lives. What was your relationship like? Did you try to boss him around, or was he the smart-alecky younger brother? What stereotype applies, if any?


[chuckle] Thank you for that question.




Yeah; nothing like stereotypes.




I don’t know. I guess I was kind of the leader, I guess, being the older brother, and stuff. And you know, we did a lot of things. There was a lot of pressure. And you know, there’s two types in the music business when it’s difficult. Lack of success and tremendous success; and both those things are fraught with complication. But for the most part, you know, we had a nice run, had a great time; enjoyed it.


And I’m sure you hear all the time, ‘Gee, you have a wonderful solo career.’ ‘So, does your brother…’ ‘But I wish you folks would play together sometimes.’


Yeah. It’s yeah, kinda like—the way I would put it is we never lost our love for each other. I mean, we are blood brothers and we love each other. But we lost our love of working together. And in this business in particular, you have to love it. Because then you just if you don’t love it, it’s work. You know, if you love it, it’s not work. And the best music comes from love. We were just tired of the idea of working together. And personally, too, it seems, you don’t have a lot in common, even though you love each other. We’re different human beings, and that’s okay. You know, that’s fair. We don’t all have to be alike in this world, so you know, we try to make space for that.


Im sure you knew I would ask you about this. Do you get tired of it? Because I’m sure a lot of people ask you, or you know, they’re thinking about it.


Yeah; I get tired of it. I mean, it’s been a lot of years,


But I’m sure you relate to Cecilio and Kapono, in that sense.


Yeah; and Robert and Roland. But I’ve been in the business so long, where I know that these projects are like stepping stones. You know, you do one, and then you work very hard, and you do another. But what is really interesting is the water that runs between the stones, the wonderful things that music brings into your life, the great places where you can go because of the music. Music brings people together, and makes beautiful experiences. So it’s often not the business of music that’s anything interesting to me; it’s what happens between the business and music.


You know, you’re such a wonderful musician, but you’re also very good with words. And of course, you’re a writer; you’ve done a book of short stories. What are some of the artistic expressions and ways you express yourself creatively?


I think for me, there’s an interesting Hawaiian word; kuana ‘ike. It means cultural paradigm, yeah? So I sort of view the world through a Hawaiian cultural paradigm. It was a gift from my ohana, right? So I may see things a little differently than somebody else with a different paradigm may see something. So I find it’s a really interesting world view. I’ve been exploring Buddhism lately, because I’ve seen many parallels between Buddhism and our Hawaiian culture, and for instance, the idea of a Hawaiian sort of philosophical thought is that within each individual, there is a bowl of light, a beautiful bowl of light. And in Buddhism, that may be called Buddhist nature. There’s a Buddhist nature in each human being, there’s a bowl of light in each human being. And you can extinguish that light, or dim it by placing in the stones of aggression, anger, ignorance; and the light dims. And in Buddhism, that may be called, perhaps, bad karma, you know sometimes they call it the three poisons, anger, greed. The idea that Buddhism embraces other cultures, other religions even, and that we should have compassion for one another; we call that aloha. So I find that really sort of interesting common grounds between the two, and that’s why I kinda want to learn more about it, and study it more. Because I find that an interesting way to view the world, and a very helpful way.


Would you say you are a Buddhist?


Yes. Yeah.


And that’s just in the last couple of years?


Yeah. Like everything else, music brought that to me, where I played for the floating lantern festival two years ago, and as I sat there with the Buddhist priests, and I understand—you know, I began to understand their reverence for ancestors—same like ours, yeah, in the Hawaiian culture. And I realized, you know, what wonderful and interesting people they were. It wasn’t like a gig at all. You know, I thought I was just gonna play a gig, but it wasn’t. It was a very moving experience. And then this year, I floated a lantern for my own mother. I wasn’t anticipating that would happen. But that’s life, you know, so I lost my mom, and I put that lantern out in the ocean, and watched it disappear.


Here’s a quote attributed to Buddha: “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” When we invited Keola Beamer to join us for a conversation on Long Story Short, he said he wanted to speak publicly, for the first time, about his personal battle with prostate cancer. And he said he might be ready to speak openly, for the first time, about the passing of his mother, Aunty Nona Beamer.


As we speak, it’s been a few months.




And I know you go through different stages of grief. What are your thoughts now, six months after she passed?


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


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


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


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


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


M-hm. M-m. You know, speaking of passing. You had a health situation which probably caused you to think of the possibility of you passing.




And people don’t realize that you had prostate cancer.


Yes; about five years ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That was a difficult time in our lives. Yeah; you’re just going along, everything seems fine, and having a great life, and all of a sudden, boom, you know. Sitting in the doctor’s office, and you hear the word cancer, and it’s about you. You know. In a way, we kind of have a saying, my friends and I; it’s an old Pidgin saying called, NCH. No can handle. You know, so when you hear that, it’s very close to NCH, you know.




You kind of—I found myself kind of disappearing and looking from a distance, down at the doctor and myself, and he’s telling me this stuff. So in a, you know, in a very interesting way, this shapes your life to brush against your own mortality—helps you realize what is important, and what is not. You know. I found myself really appreciating things like sunlight, about—I found myself wanting to be with my wife, wanting to be with my friends. It wasn’t about wanting to go the office and do some music, licensing or something. [chuckle] But it was more about being with the people you love, and the ocean, and the sun. And I think that, for people that you know, have this kind of challenge in their lives, I think it’s important to try to stay positive. Because you know, this sort of idea of cancer places this matrix of fear over our lives. I think most cancer survivors and cancer patients know that fear. And we have to kind of rise above that, because you know, there’s still life, and there’s still joy, and there’s still a future if you’re, you know, lucky enough to catch it when it’s—in the early stages of development, which was my case. Yeah. So I’m kinda fine now. In five years everything seems to be working properly, and happily enjoying my life. Medical technology is amazing.


Listening to you just now, I thought of something your mother said to me when we talked a few weeks before she passed away. She said that she’d just come out of a major health scare previously, and she said, There’s nothing like going through that to just wipe away any pettiness—any small stuff in your life.


Yeah; yeah.


It’s gone.


Yeah; exactly. You know, you’ve heard the—I’ve heard this before, that cancer is a blessing. I remember the first time I ever heard that; I said, What kind of BS is that? How can cancer possibly be a blessing? But in actuality, it was for my life. I know that sounds so strange, and so counterintuitive.


Well, what do you do now differently, that you didn’t, or wouldn’t have done then?


It just kind of cleared away the detritus of my life. You know, it made me realize, you know, it’s so—I used to feel so guilty if I said no about playing a gig that I didn’t really want to do. You know, I’d just feel so, oh person wants me; oh, guilt, guilt. But now, I just say, you know, I’m sorry. It’s not what I want to do.


Life is short and—




–you’ve gotta focus.


Right. So I think I’ll choose the things that I love now, and be a little bit more, you know, happy to do that,


Another saying associated with Buddha: The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” Speaking of quotes, I asked Keola about one I found that’s attributed to him.


There’s this wonderful quote; I have to ask you if it’s true, because it just makes me laugh. You, after some experiences playing in hotels and having people expect the kinda music that you really didn’t want to play, you said, Let’s see. You encourage tourists to ask about slack key; there are festivals several times during the year, usually for free in public parks. Write on your guest comment card, I would like to hear some real Hawaiian slack key guitar in this hotel. Say no to tourist pabulum. If someone plays Sweet Leilani at the restaurant, blow chunks and eggs at the premises. Change the world. Did you say that?


[chuckle] I think so.




You—don’t—I don’t. I’m sorry. I apologize for the humor of that. You know—


Dont apologize; it’s funny.


It’s basically a situation of kind of trying to create more knowledge about the Hawaiian culture, and about its music. For many years, people thought the Hawaiian slack key guitar and the steel guitar were the same thing. You know. So we’d, you know, when people said, What kind of guitar do you play? Oh, is that nrr-nrr one? No, it’s not. You know, two different things.


And it’s chicken and the egg. If Hawaiian musicians present this music, why shouldn’t tourists think that that’s what it is?


Right. Right; exactly. Yeah.


I know you’ve had arguments with others, say, in slack key—


Sure; sure.


–guitar, about how much innovation there should be. I mean—




–do you keep it pristine, just as it was, or do you add your own touch? What’s the answer?


Well, that is an argument that has continued through the years; similarly, in blues or other forms of music. There are the traditionalists who really—I play the way I was taught, that’s just the thumb, and the index finger, and that’s it, that’s it. I personally am old enough to have met Auntie Alice Namakelua; I was one of her students. And she thought that the next generation—Uncle Ray and Gabby, she thought those guys were radical. Those guys were putting in jazz chords and stuff. She goes, Tchah! That’s not the way, you know.


So she thought Raymond Kane would be a radical. But do you consider him a radical? Aren’t you the



Yeah; I guess I would not consider Uncle Ray a radical. You know, he was kind of a traditionalist. But to her ears, yeah?




She had that definite pattern that she was taught by her brother, and that was what slack key should sound like. Didn’t have all these kind of interesting chords that you know, came in later. And so I think that as artists and human beings, you know, I am not a museum piece; you know, life changes, and language changes, and tastes change. So we try to respect the music of our kupuna, and love it, and cherish it, and remember them. We remember them by their tunings, what they played. Without them, you know, these beautiful shoulders to stand upon, our way would have been much, much more difficult, you know. So we revere them, we appreciate them; Uncle Ray, Gabby, awesome people, beautiful musicians. By the same token, we have our own DNA and our own musical ideas, and we should be allowed to express them, yeah.


Are there things going on with Hawaiian slack key now, ki ho’alu, that you don’t really appreciate?


I think there’s been an over-commercialization of it to a certain extent. You know, because it has been successful. I don’t really spend much time thinking about that kinda stuff, but prefer to go on my own path.




I think the idea is that artists can sort of transcend boundaries, yeah? We can hopefully, with language of music, this beautiful inclusive language of music, we can work together in creating a global village and make the world a better place. You know. Make it a more interesting place. Tear down some boundaries between human beings, you know. So the idea is that we can transcend these boundaries through music if we work hard at it, in collaboration, working with each other. I’ve learned a lot about collaboration over the years. I’ve done a number of projects that have been fascinating to me.




Eclectic would be a very good word. I did a project—I think it was the year before last, in Amsterdam, with a Javanese gamelan orchestra. And those guys don’t even have a Western scale. You know, so it was interesting to try to combine the elements that we have in Hawaiian music with the Indonesian elements, and then create a new piece, which is essentially a new sound, never existed before. Likewise, I’ve been blessed to work with musicians from Europe, from Asia, trying different ideas.


Do you find that people are open, or do they know what they like as soon as they hear it, or they don’t like it? Do people give it a chance?


They do. Yeah; they do. This, you know, eclectic music that I’ve been involved with; very strange, very different, not your commercial path; but people—yeah, it’s interesting. It’s different, it’s interesting.


And you learn a lot about other people’s cultures as well.


Oh, absolutely. It’s an interesting journey to try and collaborate, create something different that never existed before.


It’ll be revealing to see (and hear) what comes of Keola Beamer’s collaborations with musicians from other cultures just as it’s revealing to hear him speak about joy and blessings juxtaposed with stories of grief coming in towering waves. Stories like these, that reveal character and life choices, have great value and we so enjoy them bringing to you on this program. At PBS Hawaii, our mission is to inform, inspire and entertain; and we try to do that each week on Long Story Short. Mahalo to Keola Beamer for sharing with all of us. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou.


Do you think you’ll see your mother again?


Yes; yes, I do. I feel pretty confident about that. And my grandparents, and …


What are you gonna say when you see them?




[chuckle] Eh!