For today’s kiaʻi Wednesday, we honor the legacy of Hawai'i's Songbird, Aunty Lena Machado.
Lena Kaulumau Wai‘ale‘ale Machado (1903-1974) was a composer, entertainer and an acclaimed singer whose Hawaiian-style soprano-falsetto performances moved her to dominance in the 1930s and 1940s, often referred to as "the Golden Age" of Hawaiian music.
Aunty Lena was born in Honolulu. She was the youngest of 5 siblings and she was raised primarily by adoptive parents who saw her early interest in music as unproductive and a waste of time, despite evidence of her natural talent. Her remarkable singing style was discovered by a radio broadcaster, who according to the story, heard Lena singing from the top of the mango tree at the Y.W.C.A on Richards Street, and offered her a singing audition. Despite early mic fright, she was an immediate sensation.
She was soon accepting offers to tour the continental U.S. with other famous Hawaiian musicians. When she married in 1926, she started her own band with husband Luciano K. Machado and was a soloist for the Royal Hawaiian Band. She continued traveling back and forth from Hawaii to the mainland on various tours for most of her life. She was also very active in women’s rights, fighting for fair pay for female musicians, and was the first woman in Hawaii to make a recording for a major record label. During World War II she was devoted to entertaining the service men and women and even went back to KGU to become the first woman in the U.S. to host her own radio show. Lena's radio show was beamed around the world to American troops, and she traveled to many military bases to entertain. In addition to recording on several major record labels, Lena was asked to head the Hawai'i Pavilion at the San Francisco World's Fair in 1939 and 1940 and was voted the most popular entertainer at the Fair.
Over the next 50 years of her singing career, Lena became one of the best-known personalities in the Hawaiian music world. She performed in all the major cities of the United States, Asia and the Pacific. She is much remembered for her singing of "Song of the Islands" and "Aloha 'Oe" at Aloha Tower on Steamer Days.Lena's singing trademark, carried on today by many well-known singers of Lena's songs, was a vocal leap done with a break in the voice. Many of her own compositions such as "E Ku'u Baby", "Holo Wa'apa", "Ei Nei," were tailor-made for her unique vocal style which included holding a note until the audience was sure she was out of breath, and then singing the last phrase without breathing.
Characteristic of her aloha spirit, Aunty Lena devoted time in her later years to teaching Hawaiian songs and hula. A part of her legacy here manifests in the "Haku Mele Award", a scholarship given to a Kamehameha Schools senior who excels in composition. Her music continues to be played by young musicians, echoed on the radio waves, and appreciated by many throughout Hawaiʻi today.