Gary Haleamau changes lives of children with his Hawaiian rock star status.
Written by Temple Kinyon
Photography by Talbot Snow
As director of exhibits and facilities at Discovery Children’s Museum, Gary Haleamau interacts daily in the lives of kids, from his student interns to the hundreds of eager young museum visitors. It’s his perfect job, he says. “It’s a blessing to be here to touch the lives of kids through the exhibits. I love what I do.”
His passions for music and Hawaiian culture and love of kids and family all come together in Haleamau’s museum work and personal life. He and his wife, Sheldeen, own a successful hula school centered around community outreach. “We focus on love and encouragement for kids and adults. The kids are what it’s all about,” Haleamau adds. The school brings together her award-winning hula and his musical talent.
Haleamau grew up in Hawaii, enjoying rock star status with his amazing slack-key guitar talent. “At age 11, I got second place in a talent contest, and the record producer gave me a 45rpm contract. I thought I was Elvis.”
Haleamau credits his dad for his musical interests. “Dad’s family gathered all the time, and everyone always brought instruments. I watched them play and experienced the sound and music. I learned by watching, so I’m basically self-taught.”
From mastering ukulele at age three, starting a band in elementary school, playing professionally at age eight, winning a plethora of contests, and scoring a club gig with bandmates Charlie and Smitty in college, Haleamau admits, “I had no idea how far this would go.”
Haleamau has numerous albums, his latest winning the Nã Hõku ̃ Hanohano Awards Religious Album of the Year. He’s played as guest artist for a variety of musicians and still tours, schedule permitting. “As long as I can go and as long as they’ll have me, I’ll keep playing.”
Haleamau’s band, “Kawili”, plays locally most Friday nights at Island Flavor. Find his albums at mele.com.