The Sound of Modern Hawaii : Amy Gilliom©2005JCMarion



Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom is well versed in the history and tradition of the music of Hawaii. Her grandmother is revered entertainer Jennie Napua Woodd who took part in the original definition of the music of the islands in the nineteen thirties as part of the Royal Hawaiian Girls who brought the hula to the world. She moved on to Hollywood where whenever there was a movie that had a Hawaiian musical number it was Woodd who was consulted on the dance segments. From that family history came the development of Gilliom as a prime interpreter of the music of modern Hawaii as we enter the twenty first century.

 

Besides her family, Amy's greatest influence has been the one and only Auntie Genoa Keawe who convinced her to concentrate her efforts on Hawaiian music. She had been in study of European classics and theater at the time, but decided to stay close to home musically speaking. Important musical producer Jon deMello welcomed Amy to his Mountain Apple music label and soon she came in contact with Willie K. Uncle Willie, (William Awihilima Kahaiali'i) from Lahaina, Maui, ia an accomplished singer and guitarist of Hawaiian music. The combination of Willie K. and Amy was a winner from the first recorded efforts and soon became one of the most popular in person acts around. Gilliom had been involved in cabaret styled vocalizing, even doing stints on the mainland in California. But it was with her collaborative partner Uncle Willie, that she had her first success. The album called "Hawaiian Tradition" that featured such songs as "Lehua'ula", "Pohai Kealoha", Na Manu O Kalani Nui", and the song made famous by Gabby Pahinui "Haleiwa Hula". The greatness of this collection made Amy instantly recognized as a Hawaiian music treasure. This album scored at the 1998 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards by winning the "Hawaiian Grammy" for female vocalist of the year, album of the year, and Hawaiian album of the year. This was followed by "Hanaiali'i" and featured more original songs composed by the pair. Once again their efforts were rewarded at the Na Hoku awards when the album was a winner for best group recording for Willie and Amy, Hawaiian album of the year, song of the year for "Palehua" written by the pair, and best engineering. Another collaborative collection called "Nostalgia" was an innovative set of hapa-haole tunes from the territory times and given a modern translation and musical setting. Songs such as "Beyond The Reef", "Lovely Hula Hands", Sweet Leilani" and the incessant "Little Grass Shack" were part of this effort.Amy won another Hoku award for best female vocal of the year on the album in 2000.

 

Throughout the nineteen nineties, Amy and Willie K. were at the top of the Hawaiian music scene and they were also becoming renown as composers of the first order. And then all of that changed for the performer. In 2001, she left her musical (and real life) partner Willie K. after a number of years and suddenly disappeared from the musical and social scene of the islands. About a year later she emerged from a sort of self imposed exile on Molokai and set forth on resuming her career and going in somewhat new directions. Besides music she delved into fashion design in both clothes and fragrance, photo production, and new musical concepts. Her initial efforts as a solo performer was called "Pu' uhonua" (a safe place) which is a bit autobiographical and features such respected Hawaiian musicians as Cyril Pahinui and Ledward Ka'apana. It was produced for her new label, self named Hanaiali'i. This effort was rewarded with the 2002 Na Hoku for best female vocal for Amy. She recorded a wide range of material and returns to efforts in the traditional ha'i (falsetto) singing so much a part of the Hawaiian musical heritage. For a huge change of pace she also performed a song with the artist known as Fiji (George Veiskoso) who is proficient at the sub genre known as "Jawaiian" or Hawaiian version of reggae.

 

In January of 2003, Gilliom's beloved tutu, Jennie Woodd passed away. In the midst of this emotional time Amy considered performing again with Willie K. They soon signed on to do a tour of the West Coast on the mainland which was the venue for a "live" recorded CD. Amy made it a point that the reunion together with Willie K. was a performance venture only, as two artists that hold each other on high regard. The live album was nominated for a new category during the Grammy Awards in 2005 for best Hawaiian Music album (vocal or instrumental), and although an album of slack-key guitar tunes won, the fact of the nomination was another insight to the great talents of Amy and Willie. Amy has also widened her performing appeal on stage doing musical comedy such as the "Rocky Horror Show" and vocalizing with symphonic orchestras both in Hawaii and Japan. In 2007 the tradition continued. Amy's album "Generation Hawai'i" won four Hoku awards for album of the year, best female vocal, Hawaiian album, and engineering. Amy Gilliom is truly a unique performer in many areas of music, but is first and foremost a musical treasure in the Hawaiian tradition.

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