Sunday, September 9, 2001

The extended Paulo family gathers around Miss Hawaii
Teen U.S.A. Alana Paulo-Tamashiro as she cuts the
cake during a party thrown for her before she
departed for the national pageant last month.

Musical ohana
joins in harmony


John Berger /

Time hangs suspended as Akemi and Rene Paulo slide into the opening bars of "Here Is Happiness." The song, first recorded in Japan as "Koko Ni Sachi Ari," is better known by local nightlife veterans as the duo's longtime musical signature and probably their biggest hit.

Wherever the Paulos performed in the 60s, 70s and 80s, this was a song local folks never grew tired of hearing. To hear them do it -- Akemi singing and Rene on piano -- invariably brings to mind great times and late nights in smoke-filled nightclubs and lounges.

But this is 2001, and the duo's days of entertaining long past midnight are history. Akemi and Rene are performing in Chinatown at a family party, filled with the members of their musical ohana.

Their granddaughter, Alana Paulo-Tamashiro, was crowned Miss Hawaii Teen U.S.A. in May and is about to leave for the national pageant in Texas.

The party is being held in the eclectically decorated offices of Eric Chandler and Takeo, the executive directors of the local pageant, and the Paulo family is out in force to give Alana a big send-off.

Alana's mother, singer and model Charlene Paulo, takes a turn on the mike and gently teases Akemi into returning to the stage for an encore, "Forevermore (Kimito Itsumademo)," another Japanese pop classic that Akemi popularized here.

Other performers include Charlene's older sister, Kathy Paulo Hirai, and Rene's youngest sister, Maria Paulo Converse.

Alana, 16, gets called up to sing, as well.

"Singing and dancing -- everybody in my family knows how to do that," Alana said. "And we always sing when we visit my grandparents' house. They're always very supportive and encouraging."

The Paulos are a tight-knit family, and the party is as much about being together as about Alana's prospects in Texas.

Rene's sisters, Susan Moniz and Anita Sotelo, are present. So is Kathy's husband, George, and sons Jordan and JJ. Alana's Uncle Boy, known outside the family as Rene Paulo Jr., did the catering.

"Just having my family as my support group has helped me develop as a person and as an entertainer," Alana said. "Mom has been there for me every step of the way, and my father too. I really appreciate my parents greatly." Her parents are divorced, but her father, Alan Tamashiro, and his wife, Sylvia, are both welcomed guests at the party.

Alana and her mother agree that music is "in her blood." It's been part of the family tradition for five generations at least.

Rene's grandfather and one of his uncles were musicians in a military band, and he recalls them as being two of his earliest inspirations. Rene's mother played the piano and noticed her son had a good ear and natural talent. He started taking piano lessons at 4 1/2 and was soon recognized as a child prodigy.

Musical talent brought Rene and Akemi together. They were teen entertainers who worked some of the same places but met through one of Akemi's friends. They married, and Akemi was pregnant when Rene was drafted and sent to Japan in 1951.

Akemi was later able to join him in Japan. The Paulo family grew while they were there. Akemi resumed her singing career in Japan, but home and the children kept her busy after the family returned to Hawaii in the mid-50s.

Rene established himself as a talented and imaginative pianist, developed a loyal following in Waikiki, and then began touring the mainland. Eventually he was offered a job that required a singer as part of the package.

Someone suggested that Akemi come out of retirement a second time. She did, and one by one, the Paulo kids joined their parents onstage, then moved on to independent careers.

Younger brother Michael joined Kalapana in 1975. He recorded "Kalapana II" as a sideman but was promoted to full membership thereafter and recorded the last two classic Kalapana albums, "Kalapana III" and "Many Classic Moments." Michael spent nine years touring with Al Jarreau and then established himself as a solo jazz artist and record producer.

Michael's teenage daughter, Melissa, is another member of the next generation who has plans for a musical career.

"She's been dancing and singing for years. ... Now I'm encouraging her to write songs," Michael said during a recent visit home. "Believe me, the next generation is coming!"

Alana hopes to be onstage, too. She's looking forward to an entertainment career after she gets her college diploma.

"That's what my family's background is, and I've always wanted to do it. ... I really see myself trying to make it all the way, and I know my family will be there for me. The love we share is what makes our family great."

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