Genoa Leilani Adolpho Keawe-Aiko

Genoa Leilani Adolpho Keawe-Aiko (October 31, 1918 – February 25, 2008) Known throughout the world as

“AuntyGenoa,” she was a Hawaiian musician and vocalist of world-wide renown. Aunty Genoa was born on O’ahu in the Kaka’ako district of Honolulu and grew up in Lā’ie, on the island’s windward side.  She is an icon in Hawaiian music and was a mainstay of the Hawaiian music scene for more than 60 years. With her tremendous voice she captivated audiences, kama’āina (locals) and malihini (visitors) alike. With a tremendous repertoire of traditional Hawaiian standards and Hapa Haole tunes, she was without equal. Many local artists include Aunty Genoa Keawe among their many influences.

“Aunty” Genoa’s early years were full of moving about. She was born in 1918 in Kaka’ako in a stable. In her childhood her family moved on several occasions. Before she was ten years old she’d already lived on Kauai for several years and had moved back to Kaka’ako. By the time she was about 10 years old, her family had moved to Laie.

This move to La’ie would help facilitate the phenomenal music career that would highlight her life. Aunty Genoa always loved to sing ever since she was a little girl. In La’ie she received her early musical training as a member of the local Mormon church’s choir. It was in choir that she built up her repertoire, knowledge and appreciation of music. She attended school until the 8th grade. She and her husband, the late Edward Puniwai Keawe-Aiko, whom she married in 1935, had eleven children.

Career

Aunty Genoa began performing music professionally prior to World War II at officers’ clubs and at bandstand shows in Kailua. Eventually she landed a radio show on station KULA. Much like most other musicians of the day, Aunty Genoa could not make a living solely on music. She also made money in her early years as a lei seller and as a taxi driver.

Her long and illustrious musical career took her throughout the islands and around the world. She had played at luʻaus, lounges, bars, and on numerous radio and television shows.  Aunty Genoa took great pride in preserving “na mea Hawai’i”. She learned to speak Hawaiian through her mother-in-law, who spoke Hawaiian as her first language, and became a fluent native-speaker (the term for someone who has learned Hawaiian from someone who speaks it as their first language instead of learning it in school). She arguably had the widest repertoire of traditional Hawaiian songs of any Hawaiian artist Like many old-time Hawaiian singers and musicians she played her music by ear. She started recording music professionally in 1946 and her original record label was with the 49th State Hawaii record company. She then went on to record with Hula Records. After a falling-out with the company she founded her own record label, Genoa Keawe Records, to record her music and the music of her family and friends.

Along with the band, who had often been known as Aunty Genoa’s Hawaiians, she helped to perpetuate Hawaiian music over the past 50 years. Though the members had changed over the years, the sound still remained the same, uniquely sweet and Hawaiian.

Her signature, sweet falsetto voice set the standard for the female Hawaiian falsettoists of today. Many of today’s top entertainers count Aunty Genoa as one of their inspirations

Death

Following years of health complications, Genoa Keawe, affectionately known as Aunty Genoa, died in the morning of February 25, 2008, at the age of 89.  I remember the day well; I was on a business trip to Chicago and received an email from a neighbor who also lived in Hawai’I and loves it as much as I, advising me of Aunty Genoa’s passing.  It was a sad day for both of us.

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