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:
 

Hawaii411:  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 endearingly.

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 that, huh?

H411:  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 there.

H411:  You ever learned to play the Banjo?
Melveen:
 I learned how to play the ukulele.

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.

H411:  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 like that.

H411:  Is the goal to help people sing better?
Melveen: I teach vocals and performance.   There's a difference.  I teach them to entertain.

H411:  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.'

H411:  Paniolo 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?
Melveen:
 I 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.

H411:  Your 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 hints?
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.

H411:  Is there a possibility of Kaula being on your next album?
Melveen: Yes.

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 singers are.

H411:  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 voiceRobert Cazimero has a smooth style.  It's so effortless, like Johnny Mathis.  It has a flow.

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 it. 

H411:  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 my Grandfather.

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 card (laughs).
H411:  We'd give you a credit card, but I don't know how far it would go.

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 their hearts.

Hawaii411 Conclusion:
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.