stage who can sing fluently in 18 languages?
Not very often. But Melveen is known to do it.
Melveen’s multi-language fluency is partly due to her mixed ethnicity. She can trace her bloodlines through 12 ethnic roots. Truly international. It's hard to pin down exactly who she is because she looks pretty cosmopolitan: a mix of cultural ethnicities that's difficult to characterize.
In Hawaii, it’s typical for people to come from mixed backgrounds - most often coming from Asian, Pacific, Caucasian, European and other origins. Melveen Leed embodies this fascinating mixture, although some would guess that she has at least some Hawaiian blood.
Some years ago, she was performing nightly at the top of the Ala Moana Hotel, which was a popular hang-out in those days, especially after dinner.
I used to go there with some friends just to listen to her hauntingly beautiful voice and you come away remembering that voice for a long time.
Little did I know that many years later, I would have the good fortune of meeting her in person. She was a guest at a party hosted by Tori Keegan, president of the Pan Pacific and Southeast Asian Women's Association, or PPSEAWAH. This is an organization that aims to promote interest in Asia and the Pacific and organizes programs of mutual interest.
At this party of Tori's in Hawaii Kai, I happened to sit on the same table as Melveen, with her husband Mike Reyes, who is of Filipino ancestry. The dinner was quite sumptuous with ethnic foods which required struggling with huge crab legs on top of all the other stuff that filled a whole table. It turned out that Tori had invited Melveen to the occasion to meet with members of PPSEAWAH and to sing a few songs when she was through struggling with the crab legs.
Before she began to sing for us, I had a moment to talk with her and ask some personal and professional questions about her career. What she said was a revelation. In addition to her main interest in music, she paints. She showed me plenty of her sketches and paintings in her I-phone which were quite colorful and reflective of beautiful scenery in Hawaii. I was impressed because not many singers or entertainers also have a talent in the visual arts.
Even more impressive was the fact she did not go to art school to learn how to paint, which she does intuitively. And neither did she go to a conservatory of music nor undergo formal training as a singer. I guess the best word to describe this talent is "organic." There are organic artists just as there are organic intellectuals and writers. Their art is in their DNA. Melveen is one of these few "unique" individuals whose entire life is immersed in engaging in the arts.
I was further impressed when she added that she prays when she is painting. In her 70s, it is likely that she will be spending the rest of her life in artistic pursuit of the arts - be it music and painting. Such an enormous well of talent.
In addition, Melveen plays the ukulele, guitar, piano, conga. mandolin, accordion, marimba, and other ethnic music instruments. Her talents are simply astounding.
According to a recent issue of BIG Island Now, Melveen has been crowned Miss Molokai and has performed in the biggest entertainment arenas in the U.S., Pacific, Asia, Russia and Europe. Her musical performances have earned her the honor of being the "ultimate quintessential ambassador of aloha."
Her repertoire in her various performances includes a cross of Hawaiian and Polynesian music, jazz, country, gospel, Latin, pop, reggae and blues. This is nothing short of remarkable and astounding. You simply run out of adjectives to describe the substance and impact of her performances on various audiences around the world. And to repeat, she can sing in 18 different languages.
Melvven to receive Lifetime Achivement Award
On March 24 at the Hawaii Convention Center, starting 6:30 p.m., Melveen will be given a Lifetime Achievement Award by PPSEAWAH. She is only the second awardee of this prestigious award in the organization's several decades of service in Hawaii, Asia and the Pacific. The awardee is chosen from a prestigious list of distinguished iconic figures in the world of art and entertainment. The award will be presented by PPSEAWAH president Mary Tori Keegan.
When notified of the award, Melveen said, "I'm very humbled to receive such an honor." She is really Hawaii's pride and joy in her profession.
The Association President Tori Kegan has described Melveen as epitomizing "the spirit of aloha" and considers the awardee as the ultimate ambassador of Hawaii to the world. PPSEAWAH has retained the services of Daniel Kalahari to direct the ceremony and the various entertainment numbers for the program honoring Melveen Leed. Several foreign dignitaries, friends and colleagues will be attending the ceremony honoring Melveen.
We will never run out of accolades for Melveen, a truly gifted artist in various realms and dimensions of her art. Adding to her main gift in the arts is her charismatic personality and dynamic presence. She is the type of human being that you like immediately when you meet her. Truly extraordinary, indeed!
It will be a sell-out night in Honolulu on the 24th of March. The first award ceremony last year attracted an impressive crowd of more than 400 guests.
DR. BELINDA A. AQUINO is currently a Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she served as Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the Center for Philippine Studies at the School of Pacific and Asian Studies. She is also a freelance journalist and a Contributing Editor of the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle.