PBS tries a littleBy Tim Ryan
Aloha for pledge week
Some of Hawaii's greatest performers will be seen by millions of viewers in an hour-long PBS special set to air in December as one of the network's national pledge drive specials.
"Hawaii, Songs of Aloha" will feature the Brothers Cazimero, Makaha Sons, Jake Shimabukuro, Keola Beamer, Willie K., Amy Hanaiali'i-Gilliom, Keola Beamer, Na Leo Pilimehana, the Kamehameha Schools Concert Glee Club and others to be announced in an invitation-only taping Aug. 22 at the Hawaii Theatre.
The production is the brainchild of independent producer Stephen Reed, president of SDR Films and a recent transplant from New York City. Reed has produced award-winning shows about Paul McCartney, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Michael Jackson and Mel Torme. For four consecutive years he's produced the Newport Jazz Festival for PBS. He has also worked with MTV, VH-1, A&E and Lifetime.
Hawaii writer Martha Noyes is scripting the show; Randie Fong, Kamehameha Schools Performing Arts director, is assisting with the cultural aspects of the production; Aaron Mahi is music director; and Elizabeth Lindsey will be its host.
The program's format will be similar to other of the network's pledge drive specials -- "Three Tenors," "Riverdance" and Yanni at the Acropolis."
"This show will present Hawaiian music and artists in a way it's never been seen before and to an audience the size of which has never been available," said Lindsey, who has appeared in numerous television shows, including ABC's short-lived Hawaii-based series "Byrds of Paradise."
"Hawaii, Songs of Aloha" is being funded by PBS, the Hawaii travel industry and the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau with special assistance by retired Army Gen. Fred Weyand and Mitch D'Olier, president and CEO of Victoria Ward. Reed declined discussing the budget until all contracts are signed. The creative team, a New York crew and the artists will be paid a nominal fee.
Reed, a frequent Hawaii visitor since 1976, decided last year to pitch the idea to PBS while vacationing on Kauai with his two sons. "I was listening to a lot of Hawaiian music and wondering why it hadn't received more exposure on the mainland," Reed said. "I decided it needed to have the right opportunity to be presented in the right way."
It wasn't an easy sell. Reed used the success of "Riverdance" as a pledge week special as a reference. " 'Riverdance' raised a lot of money for PBS; I explained that the Hawaii program also would have a lot of beautiful dancing, music and scenic shots," Reed said. "It was difficult because it's a new concept, doesn't have a name star or venue like the Acropolis (used in the Yanni special) but we do have gorgeous Hawaii."
PBS executives approved the project in March.
Since last year, Reed has listened to hundreds of Hawaiian music albums, and attended concerts and cultural events including the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo to learn as much about the genre and culture as possible.
Fong was skeptical about the project, worrying about having the same stereotypical messages and images used to represent Hawaii. "But when I talked with Stephen I saw right away that he was an extremely curious person and in a very short time had learned so much about Hawaiian music," Fong said. "He remembered names, song titles and pronounced all the words correctly; he was sincere and committed and connected with what's going on in Hawaii culturally."
Fong and Noyes joined the creative team in May; Mahi signed on earlier this month.
"It took me some time to believe in it," Mahi admitted. "It's the right time for the mainland to appreciate real Hawaiian music. The idea of learning about other cultures is very receptive now."
"Stephen has been very sensitive in the way he approaches people and listens," Lindsey said. "He has a basic vision of what the show will be but he also trusts the judgments of the artists involved."
The group is pinning its hopes on Reed's 25 years of experience in producing quality music programs and the producer's access to a national audience. The most difficult part of creating "Hawaii, Songs of Aloha" has been selecting which artists will appear.
"We only have an hour and that's wonderful to have to present this material to a national audience, but there are so many wonderful things we have to leave out," Reed said. Artists were selected based on several factors, including how accessible their music would be to a mainland audience.
The creative team has several goals. If pledges during the "Hawaii, Songs of Aloha" broadcast are significant, PBS will likely be willing to fund more Hawaiian music and cultural specials as it did for Irish-themed programs after the success of "Riverdance."
The group also wants to shatter stereotypes about Hawaii's music.
"We have this one incredible opportunity to project what Hawaiian music really is to millions of people, rather than (rehash) the same tired images of a nostalgic, romantic Hawaii of the '30s and '40s," said Lindsey.
Click for online
calendars and events.