Melveen Leed has been a local icon in Hawaii since the glory days
of Waikiki... Her name is as unique and a recognizable as her talent,
blending a powerful voice with quick wit and humor. Part Singer,
Part Comedian, All Heart...
She's a teacher - She teaches voice lessons
to aspiring entertainers at UH Windward.
She's an artist - Her art has been featured at the Kahala
Mandarin. She's a singer - She's
working on a new CD. She's a writer -
She's writing her autobiography, which she's calling From Glitz to
Natural. She's a giving person - She
donates her time to helping the sick - most recently she performed
at a fundraiser because she heard that Ann Kang, an Iolani teacher and
state champion girls volleyball coach, was
battling Lou Gehrig's disease. She's
been keeping herself busy doing exactly what she loves to do.
We caught up with Melveen at Sekiya's in Kapahulu, where she proceeded
to introduce us to her favorite ono veggies and fried noodle pupu's.
She unconsciously undoes the paper covering our chopsticks and in the
same move folds the wrapping into a little origami stand for our
utensils. Down to earth? I'd say so... This is where
our conversation starts:
Who gave you the name "Da Tita?"
Melveen: You know, I don't even
remember now. I guess it's because I was so country - Rascal yeah?
I guess it was when I started doing Country music because they asked me
"What is sister in Hawaiian?" I said, "In local slang we say 'Tita.'"
H411: Back then it didn't have the same meaning...
Melveen: What do you mean back then?
(Laughs) Yeah, now it's a little different meaning.
H411: So it wasn't offensive like it is now?
Melveen: No, not at all. They meant it
H411: Growing up on Molokai, did you ever imagine you'd be singing
at the Grand Ole Opry?
Melveen: No, because country music
wasn't my bag. I grew up singing Jazz - that's my roots. Didn't know
What made you switch to country?
Melveen: Actually, a friend of mine
approached me to do a country CD, excuse me - album, at that time. I
thought, 'Me? Sing country?' But, I've sung country songs before, you
know. So when they said they would take me to Nashville, it still
didn't hit me until I got there. Then I saw what kind of first class
treatment I was getting, and the great musicians - wow! The producer
was named Owen Bradley and he was the producer for Brenda Lee, Loretta
Lynn, Conway Twitty - all these people. In fact I'm going to go back
(to Nashville) in February to do another CD at the same place. It's not
the same producer - he passed on - but it's his brother who was my
guitar player, Harold (head of the musicians union now) who's gonna be
H411: You ever learned to play the Banjo?
Melveen: I learned how to play the
H411: How long were you in Nashville?
Melveen: A week. I performed at the
Grand Ole Opry and performed on a major television show there. I went to
the country music Fanfare six or seven times... not all in one week. I
recorded six albums there.
H411: Do you have a following in Nashville still?
Melveen: I don't think so because I
didn't stay there long enough to get a following. They wanted me to go
on a bus tour, but I didn't want that. I wanted to come home.
How long did you live in Tahiti?
Melveen: Four years, but I've been
going there for 20 years. One year I lived on an island. You saw my
website right? It's all there.
H411: Of course I did. I had to (Hawaii411 hosts her site).
H411: What were some of the exciting things you did there in Tahiti?
Melveen: I went free-diving, which is
diving 50 feet without a tank. I loved it. I went diving for fish.
H411: You're doing voice lessons...
Melveen: I'm teaching, at home and
the University of Hawaii.
H411: This isn't your first foray into
teaching right? You've done this before.
Melveen: Yes, I've taught Hula in
Tahiti, vocal here - I had a school here many years ago.
H411: Is your
passion in teaching or performing?
Melveen: Performing is my passion,
but I like teaching. I really like this gig at the University because
these are people who came especially to learn - they're not forced.
Before I had some who were forced by their parents to come - I didn't
H411: Is the goal
to help people sing better?
Melveen: I teach vocals and
performance. There's a difference. I teach them to entertain.
Are the students just anyone who wants to learn how to sing?
Melveen: They have to know how to
sing. I audition them. It's not a beginning class.
H411: So there's
no hope for us?
Melveen: I'm sorry, the doors will
be barred with a big sign that says 'Go Away.'
Country is one of my favorite all time songs. Are we going to have
a new CD out soon?
Melveen: Yup, I'm going to Nashville
to record it soon. I wrote a song similar to Paniolo Country. It has
that feel. I wrote it about my ex-boyfriends. They were musicians.
It's called "A Music Man Kind of Love." (Melveen breaks out into song).
H411: Is it going
to have a pull out poster in it like one of your old albums?
Melveen: What do you mean?
H411: Remember the pull-out poster from one of your older albums
with you, and your belly button was showing?
forgot about that (laughs). I forgot about that, and you know what?
I had crumbs in my belly button, because they took the photo on Hotel
Street (no comment from the Hawaii411 crew - just an uproar of
laughter). They were trying to look for a certain kind of wood for the
background and they found this old fence. Da mahus were across the
street going, "Hui, Tita!" I said, "Shaddap you guys!" I was ono for
cookies and they gave me shortbread cookies. So if you get a magnifying
glass and look good, I'd bet you can find the crumbs.
daughter Kaula is quite a performer, it's obvious that she is the light
of your life.
Melveen: Yes, she's with a group called
Roots Odyssey. She's been with them for three or four years.
H411: Do you spend a lot of time giving her professional advice and
Melveen: No, because when I used
to teach at my house, she used to watch and listen to what I'd tell my
students. A lot of my students have gone on to be big stars on their
own - Tony Conjugacion, Ilona Irvine, a few members of Forte, Isaac
DeRego - he's on Broadway right now - and many others.
Is there a possibility of Kaula being on your next album?
H411: Does she
write songs as well?
Melveen: Yes, beautiful songs.
In fact, just the other night, this young singer, you folks are going to
hear about her, she has a voice just like Taylor Dayne and Michael
Jackson's father just signed her up. She's a local girl. I couldn't
believe it when I heard the demo. Eh, she rocks man. So, she was
interested in the song my daughter wrote. She wrote the lyrics, I wrote
the music, called "Hold me." If it becomes a hit... wow.
H411: One of my favorite memories was the show you did with Loyal
Gardner for TV. What is one of your favorite memories of Loyal?
Melveen: My favorite memory is of
the last performance we did together, the four of us (with Local
Divas). We knew we had to do that to keep her going. It really did
lift her spirits.
H411: Is there a
song of hers that you love?
Melveen: "Roses for Mama", she made
me cry many times with that song. I love that song.
H411: What is
your favorite song of yours to perform?
Melveen: Would you believe "E Ku`u
Morning Dew?" It was a one-taker in Nashville, and I was doing that in
tears. It was very emotional. You should ask me who my favorite
Who are your favorite singers?
Melveen: Male singer is Josh Grobin.
I love his voice... and female? I like Laura Fabian from Canada.
She resides in France. She's like Celine Dion, but I like her style
better... her voice. You never get tired of listening to Laura.
H411: Who impresses you from the local singers that we have here?
Melveen: I like Ilona Irvine, I
really love her voice. She really has come a long way. I like her
voice, I like her feel. She reminds me of me in many ways. I wish she
would pursue it more and people would pick up on it more. For the
males, I have a lot of reservations because there are a lot of male
singers who I like. They have different styles, like Glen Pinho, who
has a Neil Diamond style and a powerful voice. Robert Cazimero
has a smooth style. It's so effortless, like Johnny Mathis. It has a
H411: You also have a perfume line, Manoa for women, and a new one
for men. Tell us what got you started with that?
Melveen: I was approached by a very
good friend of mine and his wife in Tahiti. They own an herbal
pharmacy. They're also my partners in the booking agency. They make
perfumes and soaps and lotions. They asked me if I was interested in
having my own line. So they went and concocted about seven different
scents, and this was the one I liked. I then had to choose a name, so I
chose my daughter's name. The root of her whole name is Manoa. I
took that for the female perfume. My grandmother was raised partially
in Manoa Valley. The next one is going to be `O for the men's line and
Tuahine. It's Niihauan, my great Grandmother is from Niihau.
H411: What else is going on in Melveen's life right now?
Melveen: My friends in Tahiti are
giving me a shop, to do whatever I like. I'm going to have a Made in
Hawaii shop - from surfboards to everything. My other friends are
building a hotel in Tahiti, and they asked me to do the interior
decorating. My friend and I are going to Malaysia to do the shopping for
I also hear that you are writing a book. What is it about?
Melveen: It's an autobiography about
from the time when I was raised on Molokai. I had a very good childhood
with a humble beginning. I was taught from making nets to surviving off
the land. Just the simple things of life, and never to take life for
granted. We had good, good, teachers, and that was my Grandmother and
H411: Have you been naughty or nice this year?
Melveen: A little of both. (Smiling)
H411: What do you
want from Santa?
Melveen: Somebody rich, so they can
take care of me. I'm not much to handle. I'm satisfied with a credit
H411: We'd give you a credit card, but I don't know how far it would
H411: You also do
some charity work?
Melveen: I started a program called
the Love Phone. It's been going for awhile. I call terminal patients
and sing to them over the phone, and then I go to them and visit them to
see who I was singing to.
H411: It must mean a lot to them.
Melveen: Yes, music always reaches
Down to earth and as
caring as your favorite Aunty, Melveen can sure light up any room she's
in. It's tough to determine what shines most about one of Hawaii's
biggest stars... Her energy, her caring, her laughter... Or is it the
fact that local people feel they can always come up to her and talk
story? She's a literal dynamo of energy that keeps going and
going... Keep an eye out for Melveen's new CD and book - This
Energizer Tita doesn't seem to be slowing down for anyone. Check
out www.melveenleed.com to find
out more about Melveen, how to join Melveen's Vocal Class, or even how
to cook one of Melveen's special recipes.