Maui Connections

Before all the Grammy nominations and Na Hoku Hanohano awards, the chart-topping CD sales and the countless other distinctions that have made her a Hawaiian music legend, Amy Hanaiali’i says she “honed her craft” in the Anuenue Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.

Now she’s coming home, or as the Beatles might say, getting back to where she once belonged, in a series of shows beginning at 7 p.m. Friday and continuing every Friday through Dec. 22. Doors open at 6:30; after-show music ends at 10. I can’t think of a better gift for the holidays.

Amy jokes that there are still indentations in the stage from her high heels in those days in the early ’90s. Her early career coincided with my early years on the island launching Maui Scene, The Maui News’ entertainment and dining guide. We almost wore out her black-and-white headshot — we still used actual photos in those bygone days of cold-type newspaper layout. It was a recurring image on the Resort Entertainment page.

Amy, the product of early training with Linda Takita’s Maui Youth Theater (now MAPA, the Maui Academy of Performing Arts), and then Baldwin High School’s drama program under the inspiring tutelage of Miss Sue Ann Loudon, had recently earned her bachelor’s degree from United States International University-School of Performing and Visual Arts in San Diego.

Launching her career as a showroom chanteuse, she jokes that she sang “really loud” in those days, but the talent — the classically trained voice, the musical-theater wit and timing, the charismatic presence — was awesome, even then.

It was Amy’s grandmother, Jennie Napua Hanaiali’i Woodd, who encouraged Amy to think bigger, expanding her repertoire and sense of herself to include her Hawaiian roots along with her classical training. Jennie had been one of the original hula dancers at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki in the 1930s who then became a sensation in the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room in Manhattan.

The show at the Ritz is a tribute to Amy’s grandmother and all of the Hawaiian performers across time who bring aloha to you perpetuating Hawaiian culture, according to a Ritz news release.

“Hanaiali’i takes you on a cultural journey from the 1900s in Waikiki, to the 1920s-1940s in New York City’s Hawaiian Room . . . to the 1950s and 1960s in the glimmering luxury of the Las Vegas strip and the silver screen in Hollywood to the present with her sultry vocals of blues, jazz, pop and Hawaiian.”

For tickets, visit www.lifeisaloha.com or call the hotel concierge desk at 669-6200.

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Another person who played a key role in Amy Hanaiali’i’s musical evolution was Maui guitarist, vocalist and supremely gifted music man, Willie K. Their collaborations were among the high points in each of their careers.

The Maui Arts & Cultural Center just announced that Willie K & Friends will kick off the new year with their incomparable Bluesfest on Jan. 6. Visit williekbluesfest.com or mauiarts.org for details.

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On another musical note, Robert Pollock emails to say he premiered his new “Piano Synergy No. 2” Friday at Medicii Supper Club in Honolulu. The 10-minute creation was the result of a commission from Music Teachers National Association in cooperation with Hawaii Music Teachers Association, which is marking its 50th anniversary.

Robert is the founder and director of Maui-based Ebb & Flow Arts, which has been presenting cutting-edge multimedia performances and educational programs statewide for more than 15 years. For more information, visit ebbandflowarts.org.

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Sources tell me the Pacific Cancer Foundation’s annual fundraiser, “Aloha Kalikimaka,” kicked off the holiday season at the Yokouchi Estate on Saturday night. Kimokeo Kapahulehua gave the moving blessing, board President Dr. Nicole Apoliona and Executive Director Nancy La Joy welcomed the festive crowd and dinner was served as Gretchen Rhodes and the House Shakers performed.

Seen at the event were Susan Graham, Dr. Kimberly Wirsing, physician assistant Rachel Withers, Eric Molina and David and Carolyn Isrealite. PCA board member Colleen O’Shea Brady, along with Rita Ryan and Elsa Wark, also mingled with the generous crowd.

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Speaking of the holidays, the one coming up Thursday is cause for celebration for lots of good reasons. While it tends to get lost in the commercial hubbub between Halloween and Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, if you prefer), I suspect our society would be better off if we got over our fixation on getting stuff and worked more on appreciating what we’ve got. It won’t do much for the economy, but contentment does soothe the soul.

It’s probably a stretch to suggest that we celebrate Thanksgiving every day . . . but here’s wishing you all much to be thankful for.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com.

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