The islands suffered back-to-back blows in July when Hawaiian Music Hall of Famers Mahi Beamer, 88, and Roland Cazimero, 66, passed away within days of each other.
Both were longtime Musician Union members and charismatic personalities who left behind a tremendous musical legacy, each in their own way.
Edwin Mahi‘ai “Mahi” Copp Beamer died July 14 at Kuakini Medical Center. Two days before, the accomplished pianist and Hawaiian contralto/falsetto vocalist collapsed following a piano performance at his brother Milton D. “Sonny” Beamer Jr.’s memorial service, held at Oahu Cemetery Chapel. Mahi Beamer had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Beamer’s grandmother was the legendary Big Island hula instructor and composer, Helen Desha Beamer. Taught piano at the age of three by his father, Beamer would go on to translate his grandmother’s Hawaiian compositions into English and share them with the world.
His first album on Capitol Records, The Remarkable Voice of Hawaii’s Mahi Beamer in Authentic Hawaiian Songs, came out in 1959. The seminal album would introduce that world to the true music of old Hawaii, with a fresh, soulful quality that seemed to come from the ancestors.
The 1946 Kamehameha Schools graduate was also a gifted hula dancer, and classically trained at Juilliard. He toured the Mainland, including Carnegie Hall, performing hula and singing, even appearing as a singer in the 1959 Columbia Pictures film, “Forbidden Island,” before focusing entirely on Hawaiian music.
After serving in the Army in 1955, Beamer landed regular gigs as a singer and hula dancer at the Queen’s Surf and Princess Kaiulani Hotel in Waikiki, as well as a featured performer at Nalani Kele’s “Polynesian Review” at the Stardust Resort and Casino in Paradise, Nev.
In 1991, Beamer received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts and a State of Hawaii Certificate in 1992 for his contributions to Hawaiian music and serving as a worthy steward of his grandmother’s musical legacy.
Known affectionately as “Bozo” for his rascal personality on- and off-stage, Roland of the famous Brothers Cazimero often stole the show by cracking wise with his more mellow straight-man brother, Robert. When it came down to performing the modern Hawaiian-folk music of their time, nobody could touch them.
The Brothers Cazimero led the Hawaiian Renaissance of the early 1970s, producing a string of bonafide Hawaiian-pop hits in the bargain and providing an earthy soundtrack for an entire Baby Boomer generation from grade school to high school graduation.
Their mix of traditional and modern with the current rock-folk trend of the era resulted in memorable classics that stood the test of time: “Home in the Islands,” “Pua Hone,” “Ka’ena,” and “Waika.” Melody for days and heavenly harmonies (Roland took on the high notes, often in Hawaiian falsetto) characterized the Brothers Cazimero.
The Brothers Cazimero were born into a large, musical family. Local entertainers, their parents, William Ka`aihue Cazimero, Sr., and Elizabeth Kapeka Meheula, raised them with a strong work ethic and fine appreciation for music. Roland learned upright bass first before moving onto guitar, creating a new niche for himself with his addition of Jimi Hendrix-influenced rock and Crosby, Stills & Nash-inspired folk. He would teach his accomplished pianist/kumu hula brother how to play the bass later on.
After graduating from Kamehameha High School in 1968, Roland and his brother started up the Sunday Manoa band with revered ukulele player/slack-key guitarist Peter Moon. Their 1969 album Guava Jam became everyone’s jam, breaking records and forging a new kind of music that parents and their children could both enjoy.
That album helped kick start the next local renaissance, with an appreciation of all things Hawaiian.
By the time Robert and Roland became the Brothers Cazimero in 1974, they were ready to lead the renaissance into a revolution. Somehow, they balanced authenticity and appreciation with cultural pride and a strong socio-political presence that supported sovereignty — especially for Roland.
They were artists in residence at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room in Waikiki throughout most of the 1980s. Like Mahi Beamer, they also played at Carnegie Hall, giving battle-hardened New Yorkers a taste of Aloha.
Roland was equally successful on his own. His 1979 concept album, Pele, gave Hawaiians even more of a sense of place, couched in that familiar blend of authenticity with surprising progressive folk (“A Promise Forgotten”).
The beloved Brothers Cazimero reigned in the islands as the godfathers of modern Hawaiian music for about four decades until 2014 when Roland took ill in the middle of their last concert in Maui for May Day. At the time, he didn’t know if he’d ever perform with his brother again (but he would play a little here and there at memorials).
Roland Cazimero died at Straub Medical Center July 16, surrounded by family. He recently battled numerous health problems, including a congestive heart, diabetes, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Mahi Beamer and Roland Cazimero have been union members since 1974 and 1964, respectively.
— Carol Banks Weber
From the Fall 2017 issue, Ke Ola O Na Mele