The Honokaa Jazz Band provides tunes and the crowd responds enthusiastically, proving that Honokaa still loves music. (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Dignitaries and community members gather to celebrate the opening of the new exhibit, “Honokaa Loves Music” at North Hawaii Education and Research Center’s Heritage Center. (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Heritage Center Director Momi Naughton welcomes the crowd to the opening of the new exhibit, “Honokaa Loves Music.” (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Former Hamakua Band member, Gilbert Awong, unties the maile lei to open the new exhibit. NHERC Heritage Center Director Momi Naughton and Mike Zola, representing Senator Brian Schatz, stand behind him. (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Gilbert Awong points to his younger self in a photograph of the Hamakua County Band that was taken when they played at Puumaile Hospital. (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Beverly Kahikina points to her father, John Phillips, while sisters Roberta Fernandez Cartwright and Melvina Fernandez point out their father, Robert Fernandez, all in the same photograph. (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Outside, a traditional and melodic Hawaiian chant begins the proceeding. And after the speeches, young musicians pump up the crowd with “Razzamataz.” Inside, 100 music-lovers stroll around the room, absorbed in photos—from the old plantation marching bands, string players at manso dances, hotel trios with kukui nut and cumerbund, to current reggae stars and Hoku winners. Folks pose with photos of family musicians, point out familiar faces and share their stories with animation.
“This is my classmate, dancing with Chubby Checker,” said volunteer Romel Dela Cruz who helped with the “Honokaa Loves Music” exhibit at North Hawaii Education and Research Center Heritage Center. “The year before that was Brenda Lee.”
“That was 1992, my senior year,” said Jennifer Finuliar, looking at a photo of herself with bandmates in matching aloha shirts. “We formed a band in the seventh and eighth grade called ‘Frenz’ and I sang and played keyboards.”
With them is Music Director Gary Washburn, who this month began 35th year with the Grammy-winning Honokaa High School Jazz Band.
“Gary Washburn makes it fun,” said Finuliar. “He makes everybody feel like a star.”
Her children are excited to see Mom’s picture.
“I’m still in the church band,” she said. “Music is something that never leaves you.”
“The radio host ’Aku Head’ flew my mom over to Oahu to do his show,” said Councilwoman Valerie Souza Poindexter. “It was 1954 I think. To thank her, he gave her a gold watch.”
Her mother, Paciencia Visaya Souza, was well known for teaching music to the neighborhood children.
“A lot of kids you see on the wall, she trained all of them,” said Poindexter.
“If somebody didn’t show up, I took the instrument and I would play,” said Gilbert Awong, looking at a picture of the Honokaa Band in long white pants, white shirts and ties. “We were paid $5 a month. And after 1946 we became the Hamakua County Band and it went up to $25 a month.”
Awong said that he and others taught themselves to play and read music. They often played marches, and “Hilo March” was a favorite. He played in the band for 26 years, some of that time with two brothers, and his father as band master. The family also owned and operated Awong Brothers Store on Mamane Street, in what is now the North Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union.
“My poor grandma,” said daughter Beverly Awong, who smiles out from one of the photos herself as a young majorette with baton. “She had three sons and a husband in the band and she had to wash and iron all those uniforms. She took great pride in that.”
Heritage Center Coordinator Momi Naughton recruited Awong and others to help identify musicians in the photos and share memories about Honokaa’s unique love story with music, band music especially.
“The interest in Western style brass bands definitely strengthened with King Kalakaua when he formed the Royal Hawaiian Band,” said Naughton. “Other ali’i had bands, but the coming of Henry Berger from Germany as director in 1872 really got the band going. The Hilo Band started in 1883 and Honokaa Band in 1884.”
“We do know that William H. Rickard, the father of Honokaa, was a big supporter of the band,” said Naughton. “His son Sheriff Rickard is in the majorette photo with Gilbert’s daughter Beverly. W.H. Rickard was a friend of Kalaukaua and was invited to his coronation. We also know that Kapiolani stayed with the Rickards in Honokaa on at least two occasions. During Kalakaua’s era it was common to have a band accompany them on their travels or to greet them at certain stops in their tours.”
Naughton said that during World War II, Alfred Carter (manager of Parker Ranch) didn’t want the cowboys drinking or bars in Waimea, so Honokaa became the watering hole for the soldiers from Camp Tarawa. Dance Halls opened and music flourished.
Later, during the plantation era, bands went from camp to camp and held dances, often “manso dances,” where it was customary for men to pay young ladies a small fee for the honor of a dance, similar to “taxi dances” on the continent. “I think the manso dances became important because of all the single Filipino men wanting to spend time enjoying a dance with women,” said Naughton.
When Hamakua Sugar closed in 1994, new Honokaa residents Dave and Sherry Pettus, David Lorch and others created the Hamakua Music Festival as a way to help “enhance economic opportunity and promote identity as a vibrant wellspring for the arts,” according to their vision statement. For years, the Festival brought high caliber classical, jazz and contemporary Hawaiian music to Honokaa Peoples Theatre and reached thousands of aspiring musicians through music education and scholarships. The Heritage Center exhibit helps continue the relationship between music, community and education.
“NHERC is proud to serve and contribute to our community in ways that mutually benefits us all,” said Farrah Marie Gomes, NHERC director. “This exhibit is in great alignment with the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s statement about what we stand for, which includes access to education, opportunities to learn from many sources, stewardship of the natural and cultural environment, community partnerships, diversity and cultural infusion.”
The “Honokaa Loves Music” exhibit was prepared with the assistance of community volunteers: Micaela Chiarini, Peter Christensen, Benigno Dela Cruz, Jodean Dela Cruz, Romel Dela Cruz, Donnie DeSilva, Monique Edwards, Jacob Elarco, Michael Gray, Corinne Kealoha, Jeani Navarro, James Silva, Raimana Subiono. It is on display at the NHERC Heritage Center, 54-539 Plumeria St., Honokaa, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, call 775-8890.