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Following in his family's footsteps


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POSTED: Monday, November 16, 2009

Jeff Peterson has played his guitar in a lot of cities, but going to Shanghai in October was something special. Shanghai is where his grandfather Edward Boone was born and raised, and where his great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather and great-great-great-grandfather, worked as doctors and medical missionaries. That was reason enough to make Peterson's first visit to the fabled Chinese metropolis an event to remember, but it turned out to be bigger and better than he'd expected.

Despite the ravages of wars, natural disasters and rampant development, the building complex where his great-grandfather taught medicine more than a century ago was still intact.

“;I thought everything would be gone, bulldozed and rebuilt to be a super-modern center, but the original buildings from 1879—these beautiful red and gray brick buildings, this beautiful oasis inland a little bit from the river—were still there,”; Peterson said earlier this month, enjoying a brief bit of downtime before departing for his next concert tour.

“;There's still an open field there, and this beautiful tree tunnel that you can drive through to get to the campus. It feels like you're at an Ivy League campus, but the buildings have the traditional Chinese roof.”;

The complex now houses a law school, and Peterson says some of the students were curious about the visiting foreigners.

William Jones Boone Jr. helped found the first Western medical school in China, in 1879. His son Henry Boone expanded it to include a hospital. Henry's son Wilmot Boone, also a doctor, was Peterson's great-grandfather.

Peterson's visit was the final stop of a concert tour with Raiatea Helm, Keola and Moanalani Beamer, Chino Montero, Steve Jones and hula dancer Capela Williams which also included shows in Beijing and Fuzhou.

“;It was really exciting to be able to take Hawaiian music and present it in a way that we felt really proud of with the lineup we had. We felt that it really represented a pretty wide spectrum of traditional Hawaiian music ... and it was well received. We really had no idea how people were going to react, and the response was really positive.”;

Peterson was a guest on Radio Shanghai. He was scheduled to be on for a half-hour, but the host kept him on for an hour and a half.

THE BOONE FAMILY connection to Shanghai ended in 1937 when the Japanese invaded the city and occupied everything but two foreign enclaves: the International Settlement and French Settlement.

“;Basically they had to abandon everything they had when the Japanese invaded,”; Peterson said.

Leaving war-torn China, his grandfather stopped in Hawaii en route to visit East Coast relatives and fell in love with the islands. He worked his way through Harvard, became a doctor and eventually returned to Hawaii.

Peterson remembers him as “;a big influence on me musically because he heard the big jazz bands in Shanghai, and he played harmonica and he could play all those songs—everything from “;In the Mood”; to “;Begin the Beguine”;—on harmonica. That was my first introduction to jazz.”;

Peterson's search for traces of his ancestors' years in China piqued the interest of a person at the hotel who helped him find the area where the Boone home had been a century ago, and also some of the streets the Boones would have used to travel from their residence to the school.

“;It was really connecting with my family's past. No one in the family had been there since my grandfather went back in the '80s. He went back to try to find the old family house, and everything was changed, even then. With all the construction (and) now the amount of construction, the progress is mind-boggling.”;

“;Walking through the streets of Shanghai and seeing the parts of the city that haven't changed, all the stories my grandfather had told me all came to life. To be there in person was pretty powerful.”;