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Hawaiian music great Alice 'Auntie Alice' Namakelua

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Posted: Sunday, February 8, 2015 12:30 am

On Friday evening, May 9, 1975, renowned slack key guitarist and Hawaiian music composer Alice “Auntie Alice” Namakelua (1892-1987) performed at a concert held in the Lihue Convention Hall.

Other slack key guitarists featured that night were Raymond Kane, Gabe Kila, the Nanakuli Sons, Manu and Ipo Kahaialii and the William Panui family.

Serving as master of ceremonies was future member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, Daniel K. Akaka.

The Hawaiian slack key guitar style, of which Auntie Alice was an expert, originated in Hawaii in the 1800s, and refers to a technique of tuning a guitar, as well as the characteristic music a slack key guitarist creates.

Basically, a slack key guitarist changes the standard tuning of a guitar to slack key tuning by loosening, or “slacking,” the guitar’s strings.

Born on the Big Island a year before the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, the teenaged Namakelua serenaded the deposed queen on several occasions by playing guitar in the manner of the 19th century and by singing for her in the Hawaiian language.

Auntie Alice was also thought to be the first woman to play the Hawaiian steel guitar, first developed in Hawaii during the late 1800s.

A Hawaiian steel guitarist plucks strings with one hand, while simultaneously changing the pitch of the strings with the other hand by sliding a bar or slide — called a steel — over the strings.

Besides being a talented guitarist, Namakelua was a kumu hula, a gifted lei-maker and a master of the Hawaiian language.

During her long life, she wrote nearly 200 Hawaiian songs and taught countless young people singing, hula and slack key guitar.

In 1959, she spent nearly five months on Kauai teaching hula, singing and the ukulele. While on Kauai, she stayed at the home of Francis Ching (Kauai’s second mayor, from 1972 to 1974) and his wife, Ruth Ching.

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