Dennis Pavao: Reminiscences

Friday,  January 18, 2002

Dear Dennis,

Previous entry: Dennis Pavao: Th, 01/17/02

Still no word.  So for this morning's entry, I will keep my focus on you and on our times together.

By ethnicity, our class of 28 was roughly divided in thirds: one third, Filipino; one third, Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian; and one third, Japanese.  Hawai`i is often called a melting pot. Our class proved it is so. Most of our class ended up intermarrying and many of us are now "calabash" (related), if not by blood, by marriage.

Back then, however, you were one of the few hapa kids, being Portuguese on your father's side and Hawaiian on your mother's side. You were a mini-version of your Daddy.  I remember staring at you, when you weren't looking, to spot the Hawaiian in you. 

Maybe your eyebrows?

Yet in every other way, you were Hawaiian, especially your heart and soul.  With your friendliness and easy smile, Aloha was a natural part of you.  You were on the shy, quiet side back then, and the joke-cracking Portuguese blood still latently unexpressed.

Although I went off to high school on O'ahu in 9th grade, I never forgot you or our classmates back home. Thank all of  you for not forgetting me either. When I came home, I made sure I was "regulah," i.e., regular, real, not phony.  

I'd learned from a Pahoa guy who joined the Army and came home on furlough talking "jah like one haole."  He wouldn't turn it off.  And we all know that pidgin, being our first language, is something we can turn off and on like water from a spigot.  We turned our pidgin off when we spoke to teachers or to tourists, and always turned it back on for each other.  

It's an identity thing.

And all of you stayed "regulah" with me, keeping me in that warm circle of friendship. When word got around that I was home for the holidays, the phone would ring and I would be told to meet "da classmates" at the basketball game at the school gym.  We'd have an instant class reunion, and you'd have that smile for me.

Our birth year, 1951, must have been a good year, as we were a bunch of regular kids who were given generous allotments of talent and hidden gifts, all in different areas.  As it turned out, the most musically talented among us was you!

You certainly did a good job hiding that huge talent under a bushel. I knew you could sing and play `ukulele and guitar. After all, every day that I walked home from school, you'd be sitting on the gym steps with the other kids from Kalapana and Opihikao, strumming your `uke and singing with the rest as you waited for the bus to take you home. 

You never stood out. As I said, you were more on the shy side.  When I was away at boarding school, you blossomed into your musical talent, as I heard you were in a rock band with your brother, Lenneth

I couldn't believe it. You.  Dennis.  A rocker!  

I was thrilled when our class invited me to the Pahoa School prom, even setting me up with a date with my kid-time sweetheart, Wayne. Going to the Pahoa School prom and being together with all of you meant the world to me. We were in the same gym that we danced our hearts out just as we did as kids, although that night, in our prom attire, we felt very grown up. That year, you were dancing with your prom date when I spotted you and you smiled at me over her shoulder.  

Somewhere between high school and life, your falsetto singing ability came to the fore and with your cousins, Ledward and Nedward, you went far beyond being our little corner of our island. You became Hawai`i's rising star as a member of the phenomenal Hawaiian music group, Hui `Ohana. You'd even recorded an album, and your fame reached every island in the Hawaiian chain. 

Your First Album:
Ledward, You, Nedward
You guys were HOT!

>> Click here for an audio clip of you singing
"Sweet Lei Mokihana" with your cousins,
courtesy of

One year, I was home from college, when my love of a cousin, Milton, who took good care of me, invited me out to see you and your cousins perform at Hilo's premier show room, the Naniloa Hotel's Crown Room.

Hui 'Ohana was the hottest group in Hawai`i. With lots of radio air time, sold-out performances, steady gigs in Waikiki showrooms, and several hit albums, you and your cousins were riding the crest of your group's popularity.

It was the first time that I saw you performing professionally. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  Your tenor singing was rich and robust.  Your astonishingly sweet falsetto reduced me -- and others -- to tears. As I watched you singing your exquisite, smooth and round falsetto and playing your guitar in your own inimitable way -- left-handed and upside down, I was burstingly proud of you. 

And you were cracking jokes!  H, da strong, dat Poragee blood. Finally came righ'  t'ru, no?  You cracked us up.

You looked so happy up there, singing your heart out to your appreciative home island crowd.  Afterwards, my cousin made sure that we went up to see you. You flashed me your smile.  

You were "regulah."  I was "regulah."  And we hugged.

I continue my vigil tonight with thoughts and reminiscences of you.

In the years that followed, your talent reached out beyond Hawai`i.  As you touched others with your music and talent on the Mainland,  Japan, and Europe, I had my nose stuck in books, going to school.

As I was carving my little career niche on the Mainland, you were carving a gigantic niche in the Hawaiian music world, winning countless awards. You became the premier falsetto singer, now known as "The Golden Voice of Hawai`i."

You.  Dennis.  A legend in your own time.  We knew you when...and you are still "regulah."

In 1995, I was awakened to my island heritage and was inspired by the chants and music. Many of you musicians were using your talents to help further and perpetuate the Hawaiian language, inspiring me to make my own little contribution, however small. My consciousness was late in coming, but it did finally come and because of your song,  "All Hawai`i Stand Together," I began paying far closer attention to what was going on at home. 

>> Click here for an audio clip of you singing
"All Hawai`i Stand Together",
courtesy of

A few years ago, we were at the Aloha Jam concert in Long Beach to see you perform. I ran into Ben Churchill of Dancing Cat Records, who we'd met sitting next to us at a Keali`i Reichel concert in San Francisco. "Talking story" again with Ben, I mentioned that I had grown up with you and how thrilled I was that I would be seeing you perform -- live -- after all these years. Ben urged me to personally say hello to you, that you'd be so happy to see someone from home.  

What can I say?  Even if I was 45 years old at the time, I reverted to that shy Pahoa girl you once knew.  If it weren't for Ben's urging, maybe I wouldn't have been so maha`oi (bold).  I let him take me to the side of the stage and he put in a word with the burly security guys. Sure enough, they let me through and I was taken backstage to see you.

Over the years, I was seeing your face on the album covers, so I saw you maturing into a man.  In person, you not only look like your dad, you're his spittin' image.  I'd recognize you anywhere! 

You didn't recognize me. 

Flustered, I hastily introduced myself. I saw that quizzical look cross your face, as you tried in vain to put a name to a face you'd last seen over 20 years ago.  I realized then that I'd introduced myself by my married name, which meant nothing to you. 

You only knew me by my maiden name. Well, of course!

When I reintroduced myself, you caught a glimpse of that small potot from Pahoa, because your face lit up with that same Dennis smile that I loved as a girl. It was a huge smile of recognition. I apologize, Dennis, for putting you through that awkwardness.

We hugged, laughed and got caught up with each other's lives and our classmates' lives.  You told me that you were married to a super lady, Leialoha Spencer, and that you were a "brand-new" daddy.  In your mid-forties, you were a daddy of keiki (little ones), and you were so proud, in a sweet and utterly charming way

It was great to see you after all these years. We had grown up in the meantime, but we were still the same: classmates from Puna, lifelong friends, even if time and distance had separated us.  

We were still "regulah."

You were due on stage, and we gave each other one more hug.  We were  fortunate to have great seats upfront, and that was one unbelievable live concert you put on. You have a huge following here in Southern California, and you  proceeded to knock the socks and slippahs off of us -- and everyone else, as the crowd erupted with wild applause with every song. 

And then you did the sweetest thing:  You told the audience how you had just met up again with a classmate from home and you wished to dedicate a song to that friend.  When you sang "A Dolly's Lullaby,"   I knew we were still connected.  I'm sure you did not know this:  it was the first hula I ever learned as a keiki !  As you sang, I felt like you were hugging me one more time.

>> Click here for an audio clip of 
"A Dolly's Lullaby",
courtesy of

And then you put the delicious icing on an already  scrumptious cake: you announced that you had a new album coming out: Sweet Leilani

>> Sweet Leilani CD with clips
Lyrics and Background of Sweet Leilani

>> Click here for an audio clip of Sweet Leilani
courtesy of

When things unexpectedly intersect in time and space, as in meaningful "coincidences," a fancy haole word is used to describe this phenomenon: synchronicity. Hawaiians would simply say: 

Ua pili mua.  
We are connected.

Mahalo nui for all that, Dennis.  You put so much of yourself into the CD, Sweet Leilani.  You could not have gifted me with a better gift than that.  

And the CD cover is purple!  Chiiicken skin.



"Life is a Gift."

Your classmate and friend, who is keeping you in my prayers, 
Author Unknown
AKA Leilani

 "The only gift is a portion of thyself..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson


September Morn  2002