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Henry Kaleialoha Allen honored for lifelong career in music

By Staff | Jun 11, 2015

Henry Allen and his wife, Sherron, in recent years have coordinated cultural programs on cruise ships.

WEST MAUI – West Maui musician Henry Kaleialoha Allen was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts.

The achievement was accompanied by a resolution of congratulations by the Hawaii State Senate, sponsored by Allen’s good friend, Sen. Brickwood Galuteria.

Allen, 82, was pleased to be recognized for a music career that began in the early 1950s at the age of 15.

“Good to be recognized while still alive, and recognized by our state and Senate for my hard work all my life as a ‘professional’ musician – with a union card to prove it – since 1953,” he commented.

“I have been recognized twice on the Senate floor by our fine legislature and given a day twice for my name; once in 2004 by Governor Linda Lingle, and again by our last governor, Neil (Abercrombie), for such, and also by our mayor of Maui. Who can say that they have two days in Hawaii with their names on them?”

Through his career as an entertainer, songwriter, producer, musician and vocalist, Allen is continuing his family’s legacy.

His great-grandfather, William Mersbergh, was called from Weimar, Germany, to come to Hawaii in 1846 by King Kamehameha V to lead what today is the Royal Hawaiian Band.

“To be recognized for such, and know that I have made a difference in our state for all, is a ‘stamp’ of accomplishment that I am proud to acknowledge,” Allen said.

“I don’t see anyone today doing what I have done – all the countries I have worked in and shows I have produced, having dedicated my life to my art form and legacy for all in the future. Producing my own festivals.”

After graduating from McKinley High School in 1952, at 15, Allen played steel guitar with the Honolulu Policeman’s Glee Club and Gonzales Brothers Troupe. This soon led to playing with Sterling Mossman, Barney Isaacs and Alfred Aholo Apaka at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

Allen left for Los Angeles to study music theory and harmony, and reading and writing music, but Alfred Apaka convinced him to return and perform in Waikiki’s thriving music scene with the Alec Kaeck Quartet, Richard Kauhi Quartet, Benny Sax Quartet and Martin Denny’s band.

He later landed in West Maui, playing for three years at the Lahaina Wharf.

In the 1970s, Allen produced dinner and dance music at the Crown Room at the Hilton Hotel in Kaanapali.

“I had three showrooms on Maui. One was the Royal Lahaina Resort, the old Crown Room… the Sheraton Maui, and then the Maui Surf (The Westin Maui),” he said. “I had both a showroom and a lounge for Hawaiian dance music and also jazz!”

Here on Maui, he launched the Hawaiian Music Institute and School of Music, and Rainbow Records. Allen also published key books on Hawaiian music and songs that are used to educate students.

After being involved with entertainment productions on several cruise lines through the Hawaiian Islands, for the last three years Allen has produced cultural programs of Hawaii and French Polynesia on the ships of Holland America Cruise Lines.

One of his career highlights was in 1987-89, when Allen produced a 30-piece orchestra in Wailea for the famous Hal Louis (Jay Akuhead Pupule), a well-known radio producer through the 1960s and ’70s.

This John Wayne Cancer Benefit was held for the “jet set” at the Intercontinental Hotel, Wailea (now Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa).

“I flew over 12 string players, violins, for this event, and Hollywood’s band leader, Jack Elliott, to lead the band with me. I am sitting in front of him on the chair. I rehearsed all the celebrities – Jerry Lewis, Andy Williams, John Denver, Hal Linden, Joe Williams, Steve and Edi Gorme, just to name a few! Producer who hired me was Hollywood’s top movie producer then, Danny Arnold. He put Sherron and me up at the resort there for the whole week. I flew in Melveen Leed, also as one of Hawaii’s female artists, with me on stage,” he recalled.

Allen also enjoyed his friendship with great jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, producing a big band show at Bishop Museum in Honolulu for the Queen Elizabeth II during the cruise ship’s world voyage, and working with Abe Weinstein on his last big event at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, right before Weinstein passed away in 2004.

“I was the opening act with his 17-piece orchestra, doing three of my original songs,” Allen said. “This was a great honor for me again to be on stage with musicians that I had hired for many years!

“Last one I want to mention is my performance at Hollywood’s Greek Theater, of which I was there with Don Ho’s show and Hal Louis again as the producer. I wrote the first 15 minutes of the opening act; all mine… it was a very Hawaiian opening with my song/chant. We did the same in Las Vegas soon afterwards, at the new MGM Hotel, with Don Ho, the show, Hal Louis and my music for the opening. I was part of the band again there!”

People that Allen looks up to in the music industry include George Benson, his friend since the 1970s; jazz guitar greats Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow; and a Manoa School teacher, Mrs. Sherman, who taught the children to listen to Hawaiian music pioneers Alex Anderson, Andy Iona and Johnny Noble.

“Their music is what literally put Hawaii on the map to the world – their songs at that time! Today, I play all of their music also, and they are on some of my CDs,” Allen explained.

When at home on Maui, Allen works on the more than 500 songs he has arranged and the over 45 songs he has written (Hawaiian and some jazz).

“I have been rearranging my categories, which are jazz, Hawaiian and my steel guitar. I use my ukulele for such when I do so. I always try to make things better, the best that I can,” he explained.

“I’ve written three books so far for Hawaiian music and will continue to do so when I have the time. I had to give up golf, one of my favorites, to do the music that is sorely needed today, and books for such, so there will be a legacy for all my works.”

Next year, Allen will debut a new CD, “Na Hoku Hano Hano,” and participate in a book project on his life. He now has his own brand of ukulele called the “Kaleialoha.”

“I plan to keep writing more music for our state, do some concerts here and the Mainland, play with the Honolulu Symphony and keep performing on all the cruise ships I can, for it is for the preservation and perpetuation of all things Hawaiian,” he said. “To make our tourists’ ‘dreams come true in Blue Hawaii,’ as I have done all of my life and still!”

These days, Allen said, steady music gigs at hotels are scarce, and most musicians don’t belong to the Hawaii Musicians’ Union, Local 677, of which he is a longtime member.

He is glad to have worked in a golden age for Hawaiian music.

“(Hawaii’s music scene has) been going in very different directions; has been doing so for some time. Not really professional anymore – when one does a recording in their garage, or online, what do you say? Is this listenable music? No finesse anymore; anything goes,” Allen said.

“I am thankful that I was a great part of ‘the Golden Era’ of Hawaii, when all of our real music legends had their own showrooms, each island’s hotels featured a great Hawaiian performer and did concerts, and the hotels hired them and paid them well for their talents.”