Henry Kaleialoha Allen to host steel guitar festival
KAANAPALI — It’s been an exciting spring for Henry Kaleialoha Allen. As this West Maui musician plans a major Hawaiian steel guitar festival in Kaanapali, he has been recognized for his lifetime of contributions to Hawaiian music.
On April 3, the Hawaii Legislature honored Allen as “One of Hawaii’s Living Treasures of Hawaiian Music,” and he played a concert for lawmakers in the Rotunda.
On April 4 at the Hawaii Music Foundation Awards, Allen received the coveted Legacy Award for his work as a jazz guitarist and master Hawaiian steel guitarist.
And on Monday, June 15, in Honolulu, Gov. Linda Lingle gave Allen a special commendation for the Henry Kaleialoha Allen Steel Guitar Festival scheduled for June 26-28, 2009, at Kaanapali Beach Hotel.
Allen, a noted musician, composer, producer and music educator, said these recent accolades were “a long time coming.”
“Glad while I’m alive to enjoy the moment and share my knowledge with others,” he explained. “This didn’t happen in a short time, but over my lifetime of 76 years and encompasses all that I have done and am still doing!”
Allen’s honors also stem from his role as an educator.
“My music collection of Hawaiian songs and also that of jazz, arranged for all instruments and bands, along with notes and tabs for the Hawaiian steel guitar and ukulele, is all of my past 19 years of work — first by hand, and now on my music notation program on my computers. I work daily from early in the morning ’til afternoon on this,” Allen explained.
He set aside his great love of golf and hobbies to write books on music for ten years, play music and work on theater productions — sometimes with the Maui and Hawaii Visitors Bureau — all over the Mainland and in the Orient, always promoting Hawaii and Hawaiian music.
“It shows what I have done with my lifetime here. I have used my time wisely,” Allen said.
“I know of no one else in our fine state that has done and accomplished and produced all that I have done, especially here in Hawaii.”
Passing musical knowledge on to the next generation shows “who you are” and “what you did,” Allen said.
Young stars may have hit songs, but Allen emphasized that they need to know how to read and write music to perpetuate it. That requires dedication and discipline.
Allen is a pioneer through his books, including “Pila Li‘i Li‘i, Ukulele” and “:Learning to Play the Hawaiian Steel Guitar.”
He is the first Hawaiian to write and produce a music text and history book for the Hawaiian steel guitar, a book of Hawaiian songs for steel guitar, and a book on the ukulele, along with a complete songbook for each. All four are copyrighted with the Library of Congress and are constantly being updated.
“The books tell who I am, and they are not simple books… no matter what instrument one plays — piano, guitar, violin — they tell you about music,” he noted.
“Lots of folks just like to play and have a good time; that’s fine. But if you want to make music your career, like I have, it’s a hard life, and I have done it. It takes diligence and dedication.”
A more fun part of the job will be the steel guitar festival, with a full weekend of performances slated at Kaanapali Beach Hotel.
The event begins on Friday, June 26, with a sunset Kanikapila and Hula Show featuring Alan Akaka & The Islanders at the Tiki Courtyard.
Starting at noon on Saturday, June 27, some of Maui’s aspiring youth and adult musicians will perform on stage. At 5 p.m., “Legends of Hawaiian Music,” a documentary featuring Allen, will be screened in the Kanahele Room.
Alan Akaka & The Islanders and guests will play in the Tiki Courtyard at 6 p.m. Saturday. Honolulu radio personality Skylark Rossetti will serve as emcee for the star-studded Henry Kaleialoha Allen and Friends Concert at 7 p.m.
Allen will bring his “Tropical Swing with a Touch of Cool Jazz” to the stage with Alan Akaka & The Islanders and special guest Brickwood Galuteria. A performance by the Colin John Blues Band will follow the concert.
On Sunday, June 28, Alan Akaka & The Islanders, Rosetti and special guests will entertain at the Sunday Champagne Brunch in the Tiki Terrace. For a complete schedule of workshops and performances, visit www.aecg.org or call 667-2805.
With his long track record in performing, Allen enjoys “being able to walk on a stage and play with anybody, professionals and nonprofessionals, whoever they may be.”
Career highlights on Maui include playing with Shorty Rogers, trumpet star of the Jazz Giants, and the last John Wayne-Hal Lewis benefit in Wailea with his 28-piece orchestra for Hollywood producer Jack Elliott.
“Danny Arnold (of Hollywood) hired me and my band to back up the likes of Joe William, Eydie Gorme, Steve Lawrence, Jerry Lewis, Hal Lewis and many others for that venue,” Allen recalled.
“The other two big events for me here on Maui also was playing with George Benson at his concert at the (Maui Arts & Cultural Center) in 2002, and then the Hawaii International Jazz Festival in 2004, when I was the opening act with the 17-piece orchestra playing my own arrangements!”
Allen was one of the original Hawaiian steel guitarists for the world-famous “Hawaii Calls” radio broadcast show and played with local greats such as Alfred Apaka and René Paulo at Honolulu’s popular clubs.
He polished his jazz guitar talents in Los Angeles in the midst of Hollywood’s swing days and performed shows in Las Vegas.
Returning to Maui, he began arranging and producing textbooks and became a music educator.
Allen has been recognized as “The Master Artist” of the Hawaiian steel guitar and Hawaiian music by the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Artists.
Gov. Linda Lingle proclaimed April 4, 2004, as “Henry Kaleialoha Allen Day,” and he received congratulatory honors from the Hawaii State Senate for outstanding contributions to Hawaiian music that year.
In 2005, Allen was recognized by the Maui County Council for renowned musical accomplishments and contributions while serving as Hawaii’s “Ambassador of Aloha” for more than 50 years.
And this year, the State Senate recognized him as a “Living Treasure” in recognition of his lifetime work on the Hawaiian steel guitar. Gov. Lingle proclaimed June 2009 “Hawaiian Steel Guitar Month” in honor of Allen.
Looking ahead, Allen plans to record more CDs in the “mixed music style,” Hawaiian and jazz, he is known for, as suggested by Benson, a world-renowned jazz guitar player and personal friend.
Allen will also produce concerts for Celebrity Cruises ships, “where I have a showroom of 1,000 persons, Vegas-style, and I perform with the ship’s eight-piece orchestras. This is seasonal, though,” he said.
“I like doing concerts, as it showcases myself on the guitar, ukulele and Hawaiian steel guitar, all three instruments.”
Allen’s music and original songs will also be played by symphony orchestras starting in Hawaii.
He remembers a time when showrooms and music halls were vibrant scenes.
“We do not have showrooms in Hawaii at all anymore. There are no venues for our professionals to play in and be seen and heard in their own settings. We have to look elsewhere for venues,” Allen concluded.