Tuning: Keola’s C or C Wahine Tuning (CGDGBE)
Level: Advanced

My Great-Grandmother, Helen Desha Beamer

In this medley, I pay tribute to the compositional genius of my great-grandmother, Helen Kapuailohia Desha Beamer (1881-1952). She is the musical backbone of the Beamer family. There is a timelessness to her work that transcends generations. A very well-known singer and hula dancer, ‘Sweetheart Grandma,’ as she was affectionately known, composed many songs that have become Hawaiian standards. She skillfully combined Western ideas of melodic structure with thoroughly Hawaiian attitudes about the function of songs and the primacy of words. She drew inspiration from dreams, journeys, or events of significance. She embroidered her mele with imagery from nature and kaona (hidden meaning), writing most often to honor particular people or commemorate events.

Ke Ali’i Hulu Mamo honors Princess Elizabeth Kahanu Kalanianaʻole, wife of Prince Jonah Kuhiō Kalanianaʻole. The title proclaims her the ‘mamo-feather ali’i.’ The verses convey images of the mamo and ʻōʻō birds (whose feathers adorned the traditional cloaks of the chiefly ali’i), as well as love in the delicate soft brush of the lehua blossoms.

An image of a mamo bird on a small branch
Hawaii Mamo (Drepanis pacifica) (extinct in 1898). Source: loe.org

Kimo Hula was written for James ‘Kimo’ Henderson and his lovely estate, Moanike’ala, in the uplands of Pi’ihonua above the town of Hilo. My great-grandmother clearly expresses a sense of appreciation in the third verse, which says, “Mahalo iā ‘oe e ka hoa aloha i ka ho’okipa i na malihini” (Thank you, dear friend, for your gracious hospitality to visitors).

I begin the medley with a beautiful impressionistic passage in the key of A minor before ascending to the C Major key in the bridge. This use of the relative minor key (three half steps down from the major key) is rooted in traditional Hawaiian oli, or chant.

Mahalo nui (thank you) for being a part of kbeamer.com

Keola Beamer


Video Lesson

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Lesson Resources

Tuning: C Wahine “Keola’s C” (C-G-D-G-B-E) (jump to lesson)