Archive for December, 2011

  • An Old Article Written by Brad Burnham About the Grammys

    This is an older article about the Grammys written two years ago about George by Brad Burnham.  It was originally published in Maui Magazine’s Rhythm & Views column.  The title of the post is “The Grammys and George Kahumoku Jr.”  I chose to repost this article here because it is really good, but also quite difficult to find on the Maui magazine’s site.  I too will get to go to the Grammys with George, soon, the same way Brad did years ago and am looking forward to it.  Well here is Brad’s article:

    “The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences restructured the Grammy Awards earlier this month, merging existing categories across all genres including pop, rock, R&B and country. Most of the changes make sense. One change, however, did bring out the ire in some of Hawaii’s music fans; the award for Best Hawaiian Music Album was combined with Best Native American Music Album and Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album. The new category will be called the Best Regional Roots Music Album.

    The award for Best Hawaiian Album was only added by the academy in 2005. For the few years it existed, some of Hawaii’s most beloved performers traveled to the Mainland to participate in the annual Grammy Awards ceremony.

    Rhythm & Views would like to take you behind-the-scenes at the Grammys during one of those trips with Maui’s slack-key master George Kahumoku Jr. and guest blogger Brad Burnham.

    Burnham has spent 20 years in the media, attending several high-profile events with massive amounts of press, security and production including the NFL Super Bowl, complete with locker-room interviews, private parties for the NFL alumni and a private concert with Hootie and the Blowfish. He also attended Universal Studios‘ Jurassic Park Ride opening in Hollywood with Steven Spielberg and has appeared on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

    He told R&V that he has seen some very high-profile events and he thinks the Grammys top them all. We’d like to welcome Burnham as he shares 24 hours at the Grammys with Uncle George.”


    George Kahumoku and Brad Burnham

    George Kahumoku and Brad Burnham

    Glamorous Grammys (Hawaiian Style)

    by Brad Burnham

    “Ever wonder what actually happens when an artist wins a Grammy, accepts the award and then disappears off the stage? Well my friends, I experienced this whirl-wind with a handful of Hawaiians who picked up their fourth award in five years. And I must set the stage, no pun intended, by stating that I have been very fortunate to have observed some very extraordinary presentations and productions … and I think the Grammys take the cake, or in this case, the pineapple.

    I will do my best to paint the canvas of this 24 hour extravaganza so you will have an enlightened perspective as to just how great and just how grand this show really is.

    Uncle George Kahumoku Jr. is a legend on Maui. He is a multi-talented slack key guitarist and is the life and breath of a true Hawaiian. We became friends about three years ago after I first saw him perform at his weekly concert series (Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar). This show blew me away in its quaint simple setting and is a must-see for anyone visiting Maui.

    Since then, we have stayed in contact and I was lucky enough to take my family to visit him and his wife on his farm in Wailuku. A couple weeks before the Grammys (2009), George, knowing that I would assist him with photography as well as written re-caps, called and invited me. I could not say yes and mahalo fast enough.

    I flew from Phoenix to LA and taxied to his location in Manhattan Beach. We shot the Manhattan Beach breeze for about two hours, and it was very much like our visit on his farm — fun, friendly and relaxed, not at all full of the hype that you would think would accompany the few hours before an event of this magnitude.

    Our host Paul Konwiser, wife and son dressed and we drove to the Staples Center. The police presence was massive; I would consider it to be on the level of a Presidential visit. Multiple check points, mirrors being rolled under the cars, tire spikes, packs of police (30 of them in groups being prepped for the day) all nearly sporting swat-like weaponry. A very impressive display by the LAPD to say the least. And keep in mind, that this was all being done to the people that were “supposed to be there” and had VIP tickets on the dash of their cars. Quite a deal and a little unnerving, as at one point, we wondered if we might even have trouble getting in.

    Once in the parking garage, Paul and his wife graced George and their son with beautiful flower and ti-leaf leis. That’s it. We were ready to go in.

    They all quickly entered the LA Convention Center, while I, having just flown in, needed to run to my nearby Westin Bonaventure to change and freshen up. A curious moment because when we split up, we could not help but wonder if we find each other again.

    Not to worry. After a quick stop at my hotel and a taxi back down to the event, I was easily inside. Something that I was not aware of is that there is a pre-show telecast, where nearly all of the awards are given out in a smaller version of what is seen on television. George had told me to hurry as their category was to be called early on, #24 to be exact.

    I got there and immediately saw the legendary Neil Young. So at that point, I quickly realized that I was in the right place. I made my way up to the camera tri-pod platform, which was dead center about 10 rows off the stage. After about 12 categories — I was a bit late — Best Hawaiian Album was being shown on the big screen.

    Oh my gosh…this is it! I get goose bumps just writing this. What a moment! And within what seemed like seconds, the nominees were announced…and bam…the winner is? “MASTERS OF HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR VOL.2,” Jeff Peterson, George Kahumoku Jr, Wayne Wong, Paul Konwiser and Daniel Ho! OMG…my friends just won the Grammy! I could barely breathe and was not sure what to do, except to start shooting pix with my iPhone.

    As the newly crowned champs left the stage, I figured, just like on TV, that they would exit stage right, set their trophy on a pedestal, return to their seats and watch the rest of the categories. Boy was I wrong. What happened next was like transcending into a glitzy glam-packed fairytale.

    We all — the winners, their wives and myself — assembled on the stage-right side of the room and were told to wait there by an escort. I had no idea what was going on, but George and the crew did, as they have walked down this beach before.

    Another escort appeared and made a quick count of the members in our party. We had an escort at the front of the group and also one at the back, so nobody could join our group. We headed out of the LA Convention Center en route to who knows where, down an escalator and into one of the metal detectors. (By the end of the event, I must have gone through, been wanded etc. at least five or six times.) It seemed a bit over-kill, but extremely safe.

    As we went through to go into the Staples Center, we had to show our tickets for the main event. Some how George had dropped his along the way. I did not have any trouble believing it with all the excitement; but it did not appear that we were going to get to continue on. I think George’s boyish smile got him out of that jam, because the senior supervisor let us go through quite quickly.

    More escalators, turns, more hallways; I could not even come close to retracing my steps and now it appeared we were about to enter a media circuit. Over the course of the next 60-90 minutes, we made about seven or eight stops at various locations. All the while, George, Paul and Daniel seemed to be on the phone doing interviews of their own, I assumed with Hawaiian press.

    Upstairs in the Staples Center, we were whisked past the suites. Many were marked (as dressing rooms) with the names of the performers for the main event. As we walked by these rooms titled Jay-Z, Slash etc., again it was quite clear that we were in the epicenter of the Grammys.

    It seemed like nearly every 100 yards or so, there was a stopping point. The winners (Jeff, George, Wayne, Paul and Daniel) would go up a couple of stairs on to a platform with a podium and mic and field questions from the press. The first one seem to be local (LA) press. As we continued, it seemed as though yet another stop was international press. There were three to four other stops in different locations, with video cameras and different settings and backdrops.

    George and the guys stopped briefly at each one for a quick Q-n-A, and then off to the next. As we walked from stop to stop, it seemed that everyone along the way was offering congratulations. At first, I did not know what to say; I was simply an invited guest. But it happened so often that at one point, I just started saying “thank you.” Yet another iconic moment, everything was executed so well, all of the nominees and winners, friends and family, staff, etc., all could not have been more full of friendliness.

    The interviews started to wind down a bit, so I started to think that this has got to be about it. Wrong again. Now it was time for pictures. The picture area was very cool. Our group was immediately stopped and asked to stand around a computer screen where a small lens snapped their photo and immediately put them on Facebook. I thought that was an interesting, unique touch. Sort of a “star-tracker” for those at home to watch as the winners were being announced.

    The photo area was terrific, but full of rules, as in: “Don’t touch the Grammys!” Uncle George (aka Uncle Grammy or Grammy Kahumoku) was having fun with the trophies and was attempting to pass them around a bit to Jeff’s wife and myself. Several times he and the group were told that “only the winners” could touch the prize. I did not know this was such a taboo thing to do, but we quickly realized that the Grammys themselves carry a pride, history and heritage, and with that comes a very distinct set of dos and don’ts.

    When George realized that I could not hold one, he graciously pulled me on to the camera set and asked the shooter to capture a picture of he and I, with him holding the Grammy. That my friends is a moment I will never forget. I can barely describe how beautiful that moment was; here I am, just a guy, just a friend of George, not a Grammy winner. For crying out loud, yesterday I was in Scottsdale, AZ, selling Audis and now today, I am in the heart of the Grammy celebration with a winner and his trophy, on the camera set, getting possibly the most memorable keepsake I could ever possibly hope to get.

    All that said, I had to chuckle while realizing that it was George’s Hawaiian-ness coming out. The spirit of Aloha, to give what you have to another, to share your life with another, to live in the present and to fully share the moment. I had to step away from the group, as the authenticity of those chain of events watered my eyes.

    Becoming speechless at this last stop put me in the “OK, I’m good. I can go home now” mode, feeling as though nothing better could happen. Little did I know, the best part — the infamous walk down the red carpet — was next.”


  • Bella the Baby Goat.

    As many of George’s fans may know, he is a lot like Old McDonald in the sense that he has a huge farm full of animals and almost every type is or has been there at one time or another.  Well with the exception of pigs, but that’s only because the CC and R’s at the Cliffs at Kahakuloa prohibit pigs and roosters, and even then George found a way to circumvent this and had secret Cows and Pigs on someone else’s property that he didn’t tell Mom about.   Bella the baby goat is one of his new animals.

    My Sister Jessica bottle feeding Bella

    My Sister Jessica bottle feeding Bella

    Annabel the Mother

    Annabel the Mother

    Annabel is our alpha female and one of George’s best mothers and she has mothered a good number of goats.  Unfortunately recently a stray dog came through the pasture at night and injured her udder.  This means that it’s now painful for her to nurse her baby, so she wasn’t letting Bella get the milk necessary to grow into a healthy goat.  So now each of us has to take turns bottle feeding Bella so that she can grow strong.


    The farm is not normally my department, but for an adorable baby goat I can make an exception!


  • A Blog Post by George’s New Friend Ray Tsuchiyama


    Recently a man by the name of Ray Tsuchiyama met George Kahumoku for the first time and wrote this blog piece about him in Ray’s column for the Maui News.  He heaped George with praise of course.

    Here is what Ray Tsuchiyama had to say about George in his blog post:

    RayT-headshot“Recently, I had a delightful meeting with the larger-than-life Renaissance-man George Kahumoku Jr.  I am not a follower of Hawaiian music, so I did not know that I was meeting such a distinguished musician, who lives on a farm on Maui.      Later I listened to George’s CD compilations, ranging from the traditional Hawaiian “Hymns of Hawaii” to the English-dominant lyrics in “Island Classics”, and I was overwhelmed by his virtuosity and range.  What is impressive in the two-Volume “Hawaiian Hulas” CD is George’s wondrous dexterity on the 12-string slack key guitar (simply, “slack key guitar” is a musical genre based on a finger style of playing using open tunings while combining bass, rhythm, and melody onto one instrument), resulting in the transcendence of “classic” hula tunes to universal lyrical expression.  Perhaps the “purest” musical recording is George’s “E Lili’u” CD, composed of his emotional solo instrumental playing on the slack key guitar, haunting melodies based on songs written by Queen Liliuokalani, including the beautiful and powerful “Aloha ‘Oe” and “Queen’s Prayer”  . . .

    George certainly deserved his four Grammy awards  . . . voted by legions of talented musicians.

    Yet George is more than a musician: he is a tireless global teacher/mentor of new generations of Hawaiian musicians.

    Throughout the world Hawaiian music is enjoyed by tens of millions of fans, and there is a universe of individuals who aspire to play Hawaiian music.  For decades George has been teaching students the ukulele and slack key guitar.  He has taught at the Berklee School of Music in Boston (the school is unique for courses on rock-and-roll, the Rolling Stones version of classical mecca Julliard in New York City), and at the World’s Fair in the northern German city of Hanover (thousands of students), and in Nashville (additional thousands), and throughout Japan.  George surprised me: he said that in Japan there are more than one million hula dancers, >100,000 ukulele players and >10,000 steel guitar players (the latter figure tops the entire population of Moloka’i at 8,000!).  In Germany, he estimates there are >250,000 hula dancers and >50,000 ukulele players.

    The most surprising statistic was 1 million ukulele players in cold Canada.  In the Canadian province of Ontario, nearly 60% of all elementary grade school teachers teach music with no musical background – utilizing the ukulele as the teaching/learning platform.

    In the late 1960s a visionary school instructor in Halifax, Nova Scotia named J. Chalmers Doane launched a student music program, which is now known as the Doane-Hill Method (  Hundreds of thousands of Canadian children and adults were taught music fundamentals, including “sight reading, ear training, singing and playing together” – all based on the Hawaiian ukulele.  What is extraordinary is that in far-off Halifax city, many students continued with the ukulele (even though learning another instrument or two) and “eventually there evolved a hierarchy of all-city ukulele ensembles, the best of which was the famous “A” Group, which performed across Canada and produced many recordings and television specials”.

    The “Hill” of the “Doane-Hill Method” is James Hill, a younger man whose teachers were Doane’s students – and Hill emerged as a ukulele wunderkindvirtuoso who gave concerts throughout Canada and the United States, as well as in Japan and Western Europe. Interestingly, he traveled from Canada to teach ukulele playing at a Hawaiian music school on the Big Island.

    George pointed out that he has seen a resurgence of music interest among Hawaii’s children, and he mentioned that he has witnessed Samuel Enoka Kalama Intermediate School Makawao campus students arriving at the school cafeteria at 7 AM for ukulele lessons led by instructor Benny Uyetake.  George laughed and said “they (the children) all want to be next Jake (Shimabukuro)”.  . . This is a great ambition to emulate a youthful, innovative musician, at such an early age!

    After my all-too-short meetings with George, I had several takeaways:

    First, the ukulele — plus music education in general throughout Hawaii schools — has not yet reached its potential in its birthplace of Hawaii.  The mid-October Maui Ukulele Festival reflects the musical enthusiasm of many ukulele-lovers in the community, yet the cold Canadian Northland executed a sustained musical program over decades.  The metric achieved was 1 million ukulele-strumming children and adults — that’s about the population of Hawaii – out of Canada’s total population of barely 35 million.  There should be a similar musical program on a micro-level in my childhood community of Kalihi-Palama or Kihei or Lihue.  I have regretted not learning a musical instrument; my life could have been richer, fuller, and artistic.

    Second, after watching George record separate tracks – slack-key guitar and ukulele – then meld them on a tablet computer utilizing a music software program, I was impressed by his easy embrace (and promotion) of sophisticated technology for music composition and teaching – he sees no contradiction between traditional music and tech adoption.  If students learn faster and the musical results sound better, George is a tech believer; his smiling face is next to the term “early adopter” in the Webster’s dictionary.  He is a progressive individual who is learning constantly: age is no barrier. *

    Third, George is an endless networker (with an army of like-minded mentors), a storyteller, an internationalist – and one is seduced (even a non-musical individual like myself) to support his music, his students, his initiatives – and I could see his universal appeal, his capacity as an unselfish ambassador of Hawaiian music and culture from his small Maui farm headquarters to distant lands, to Europe, Japan.  In short, I don’t know if he is a natural entrepreneur or he learned his marketing/PR skills over the years, but he can easily teach Marketing Music 101 at the Harvard Business School.

    Finally, after our all-too-short meeting, George invited me to his truck, and out of buckets in the back, he stuffed sweet potatoes and large green bok choi leaves in a bag and handed them to me.  He apologized to me for giant teeth marks on some sweet potatoes; his horses devised a tasting menu that unfortunately included a new crop.  This short blog piece does not do justice to his multi-talented (I did not mention his art) background, yet he would be happy if I mentioned his deep love and passion for sustainable farming, to spread the fruits of his farm to others like a Hawaiian Johnny Appleseed, an evangelist of self-grown vegetables, good food, the aina.  I cannot wait until I meet him again to bring joy and peace to my heart, to re-affirm the beauty of music and aloha.

    * For some people in Hawaii, there exists a divide/separation between ukulele mastery and software/computer engineering.  Can a student growing up in Lahaina or Hana be a master of both? – Ah, a topic for a future blog piece.”


  • Grammy Nomination Celebration Show

    As I have mentioned before my hanai father George Kahumoku and Daniel Ho have recently been nominated for the Grammys in the Regional Roots (George) and Pop Instrumental (Daniel) categories.  Tonight we had a special Slack Key show to celebrate that featured them plus the beautiful Tia Carrere, who won the Best Hawaiian Grammy last February.  If you wish to get an idea of just how big a deal these two artists are, the Maui news has an excellent article on them here.

    The Grammy Winners

    The Grammy Winners

    We even had a pair of cakes decorated with George’s Wao Akua and Daniel’s E Kahe Malie CD covers.  We also had a package deal were attendees could purchase both CD’s for $24.  Which is an offer that is still available here on our site until after the Grammys are over.  Shipping is free.  George being the generous man that he is also gave away little chocolate guitars to anyone who bought one or more CD’s.  The show sold so many tickets that we had to bring in extra folding chairs in order to accommodate everyone.

    George's Album Cake

    George’s Album Cake

    Daniel's Album Cake

    Daniel’s Album Cake

    The night didn’t go completely smoothly though, as our rascally sound man/artist/personnel manager, Sterling Seaton, attempted to hijack a Grammy and my “management jacket” blazer at the same time.

    Sterling swears this is his grammy. It has his name on it after all. Is that duct tape?

    Sterling swears this is his grammy. It has his name on it after all. Is that duct tape?

    Me in my Management Jacket. Because everyone looks important in a blazer.

    Me in my Management Jacket. Because everyone looks important in a blazer.

    Sterling with my stolen jacket and hijacking the Grammy

    Sterling with my stolen jacket and hijacking the Grammy

    George opened the show and Daniel and Tia performed after him.  Video footage of the show can be viewed here.  Daniel played an excellent set, and Tia’s voice is as beautiful as she is.

    Chocolate Guitars George gave to the audience

    Chocolate Guitars George gave to the audience

    After the performance we had intermission and our nominees took some time to sign autographs and take photos with their fans.  When the show resumed, Peter and Garrett the Ukulele Boys performed.  When they were done, the show climaxed with all of our performers jamming together.  It is difficult to use words to describe it, however videos of our performances can be viewed here on our YouTube channel.  The show received a standing ovation from the packed audience hall.  Fun and celebration cake were had by all.

    Standing Ovation...

    Standing Ovation… 

    Me with Daniel Ho and Tia Carrere. Yes she really does sound as beautiful as she looks.

    Me with Daniel Ho and Tia Carrere. Yes she really does sound as beautiful as she looks.


  • Children’s Ukulele Class with Uncle George

    Once every two weeks George has a class where he teaches local children how to play the ukulele.  Some of the local mothers pack their and their neighbor’s kids into their mini vans and drive up here to the Kahumoku Family Farm.  With George of course a ukulele lesson is seldom just a ukulele lesson, he doesn’t get paid for this gig instead he works for trade, and by trade I mean helping him with his jungle of a garden and his zoo full of barn yard animals.

    The Human Choo Choo Train

    The Human Choo Choo Train

    The children get to play with and feed adorable baby goats before the lesson.  I’m sure they had fun.



    This of course also serves the dual purpose getting things done on the farm, but more importantly it tires the children out so that they can sit still and pay attention during the ukulele lesson.

    After George is done working the excess energy out of the children on the farm, everyone is fed lunch cooked by George who is as much a master chef as he is a master Slack Key player. Today chicken long rice soup is what’s for lunch.

    The Mothers Preparing the Table for Lunch

    The Mothers Preparing the Table for Lunch

    After everyone has eaten and the children are tired out from a combination of garden work and food coma, the ukulele lesson finally begins.  All the children sit in a circle and George gives them their lesson.  Some of George’s favorite things to do are teaching and spending time with children.  This event combines both those things so naturally George lost track of time and spent much more time teaching than he thought he would.

    The Ukulele Lesson

    The Ukulele Lesson

    That and being as much a master procrastinator as he is a master guitarist, he was likely avoiding doing what he was supposed to get done today which is going through and cleaning out his garage.  Which at this point looks like he is auditioning for the lead role in an episode of hoarders.

    He should be doing this, but...

    He should be doing this, but…

    He would rather be doing this!

    He would rather be doing this!