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LDS in Hawaii lose music icon, Aunty Genoa Leilani Keawe

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26 2008 12:28 a.m. MST

HONOLULU — One of the most enduring and endearing voices in Hawaiian music is silent with the death of "Aunty" Genoa Leilani Keawe.

Family members say the icon of traditional island music passed away peacefully in her sleep Monday morning. She was 89.

Known widely as Aunty Genoa, she recorded more than 20 albums, dating back to vinyl 78 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm albums, and about 150 singles.

Her son, Eric K. Keawe of Keawe Records, says his mother had suffered health problems over the last decade but always managed to bounce back into the limelight.

Keawe was a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which will be conducting her funeral services. She was one of the island state's most visible and beloved Mormons.

"She was a very simple person. She loved the people of Hawaii and her many fans throughout the world for their support through her experiences and travels," her son said.

He said she maintained the strength of her beautiful soprano voice up to her last day at home.

Born Genoa Leilani Adolpho, Keawe married to Edward P. Keawe-Aiko. They had 12 children, including three who survive. She had 40 grandchildren, 98 great-grandchildren and 81 great-great grandchildren.

Keawe's life in music started in Laie, center of Mormon culture in Hawaii. She sang with the island Mormon choir and said her sister, Annie, was a great influence on her music as they sang church songs together.

She began her professional career in 1939, singing for bandstand shows in Kailua and at the Officers Club before World War II with George Hookano and his band. She sang on the radio and on early TV, she became a regular on the "Lucky Luck Show," hosted by Robert Luck. She also sang on the nationally broadcast "Hawaii Calls" and at several clubs and hotels on Oahu. For the past decade, she had been performing weekly at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.

She received many music awards and took traditional Hawaiian music across Asia, Canada, Switzerland, Brazil and many U.S. cities. She performed on a trip to Russia when she was in her 80s.

In February 2004, Keawe joined four other well-known Hawaii residents in being named a "Living Treasure of Hawaii" by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii.

Her music is often featured at hula festivals. In 2000, she was inducted into the Hawaii Music Hall of Fame and also received an award from the National Endowment for the Culture and Arts.

"She was a teacher, she was a student, she was Hawaii," said Jon de Mello, CEO of Mountain Apple Co., who said he had visited Keawe a week ago in the hospital, where she picked up a ukulele and sang "Ho'onanea." Her last public performance was on Jan. 31, but family members said she continued to sing to staff and visitors at the hospital.

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