WINONA DESHA BEAMER ~ 1923-2008
Entertainer and cultural icon Winona Beamer died yesterday at age 84.
Death calls Hawaiian music titan
Aunty Nona’s mele echoes on
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Generations of music fans knew her as "Aunty Nona," the author, chanter, dancer, educator, musician, recording artist, songwriter, Hawaiian cultural champion and storyteller who leaves behind thousands of smiling audiences.
Winona "Nona" Beamer died early yesterday morning in Lahaina. She was 84. "She went in her sleep, and that's a good way to go," son Kapono Beamer said.
Beamer helped lead to the downfall of five Bishop Estate trustees nearly a decade ago after she wrote a letter asking state Supreme Court justices to remove trustee Lokelani Lindsey.
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Winona "Nona" Beamer -- author, chanter, dancer, educator, musician, recording artist, songwriter and storyteller -- died early yesterday morning at her home in Lahaina. She was 84.
"She went in her sleep, and that's a good way to go," son Kapono Beamer said, calling from Maui early yesterday afternoon.
"She leaves behind a legacy of thousands of smiling faces of people at her performances of hula and Hawaiian music, and of all of her students for so many years."
"Aunty Nona," as she was known to several generations of Hawaiian music fans, had been in ill heath for several months. She was represented in March by her grandson Kamana Beamer when Johnny Kai named her the recipient of the Governor Linda Lingle Fine Arts Award at the Hawaii Music Awards' 2008 Legacy Awards banquet.
The Legacy Award was the latest in a long list of awards and honors that recognized her contributions in almost all areas of Hawaiian music. The Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, and she was the 2003 Honoree of the Ka Himeni Ana acoustic Hawaiian singing competition.
COURTESY OF THE BEAMER FAMILY
Nona Beamer is shown with her family -- son Keola, left, mother Louise Beamer, son Kapono, brother Keola (now known as "Uncle Keola") and father Pono -- in Nuuanu in the 1970s.
HARA President Hailama Farden recalled her as "a definite pillar of Hawaiian education."
"Well known for her great contributions to Hawaiian education, music, storytelling and civic leadership, Aunty Nona's aloha for her people will live strong via her sons, grandsons and thousands of haumana (students). The Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts sorrowfully bids aloha to one of its life members."
Ron Jacobs of whodaguyhawaii.com hailed her as a member of a musical dynasty who "proudly carried the torch that was passed on to her, illuminated the way for so many others and lit a flame that grows even brighter because of the people and passion she brought us."
Jon de Mello, chief executive officer of the Mountain Apple Co., put it in personal terms.
"It's like losing my mother all over again. She nurtured all of us in Hawaii and dedicated her life to education and being Hawaiian."
Winona Kapuailohia Desha Beamer was born in Honolulu, the first child of Louise and Francis Kealiinohopono Desha Beamer. She was raised in Napoopoo on the Big Island, the home island of her grandmother Helen Kapuailohia Desha Beamer, the matriarch of the Beamer family.
It was there, with the encouragement of her parents and her "Sweetheart Grandma," that she first embraced music and hula. Her earliest memory of performing for an audience was at the age of 3. She would continue to perform -- and then to teach -- for almost her entire life.
Kamana Beamer told the Star-Bulletin last fall that his grandmother admitted being "a stubborn cuss" as a child. That too was a quality that would serve Hawaii well in the years to come.
Beamer would be labeled "willful" by administrators at Kamehameha School in the late 1930s for challenging the school rules that prohibited students to dance hula while standing or to speak Hawaiian on campus.
Beamer stuck it out nonetheless. She graduated from Kamehameha in 1941 and attended college on the mainland. It was while living on the mainland that she first become known as an advocate of authentic Hawaiian hula rather than the hapa-haole style popularized in the movies of the day. A series of performances in the East and Midwest with her brother Keola (now known as "Uncle Keola") and her cousin Mahi were capped by a performance at Carnegie Hall in 1948. It was the first time a Hawaiian group performed there.
Beamer returned to Kamehameha as a teacher in 1949 and campaigned successfully for the establishment of a Hawaiian-studies program. Her contributions over the next four decades included the preparation of song books and hula manuals, the composition of chants and songs, and coordination of the annual Kamehameha Schools Song Contest.
She also saw to it that the rules against dancing hula while standing and speaking Hawaiian on campus were repealed forever.
Skylark Rosetti, the radio broadcaster known for several decades as the Honolulu Skylark, recalled Aunty Nona as "one of my mentors. She taught me to honor our culture while taking it with us into the future. Her love for Hawaii keiki was evident in all that she did. In my many interviews with her over the years, she always said that her traditions and knowledge of chant, hula and language came from her family. The Beamers shared their knowledge willingly with all. I was lucky enough to be one of those who received her gracious and giving spirit of aloha."
Myrna and Eddie Kamae echoed those sentiments: "What a treasure we have lost. The magic of her laughter and her incredible knowledge are going to be missed."
Ethnomusicologist Ricardo Trimillos described her as "the visionary of the Second Hawaiian Renaissance."
"Most memorable is her reintroduction of mele kahiko at the Kamehameha Schools in ways that could not be ignored. Perhaps less recognized but equally important were the publication and documentation of the Beamer repertory. These acts both protected and preserved the family heritage within the Hawaiian community and within the larger American context with its practices of copyright and ownership."
STAR-BULLETIN / AUGUST 1987
Nona Beamer acts out a story from Hawaiian culture for preschool children at Church of the Crossroads in Moiliili.
University of Hawaii-Manoa musicologist Jay Junker recalled her as "one of the greatest teachers I ever had the privilege to meet and learn from. ... It was always so energizing to be in her presence because she always seemed to be so energized herself. She combined the artistic, the spiritual and scholarly. She operated from real love and a strong sense of mission. A genuine giant."
Beamer was the first and most important mentor and role model for her sons, Keola and Kapono, who have brought her legacy forward another generation with their accomplishments.
In addition to sons Keola and Kapono, and grandson Kamana Beamer, Aunty Nona is survived by brothers Francis "Pono" Beamer Jr. and C. Keola "Uncle Keola" Beamer, sister Tita Beamer Solomon, hanai daughter Maile Beamer Loo-Ching, cousins Mahi and Sunbeam Beamer and many other members of the Beamer ohana.
Funeral arrangements are pending.