At the age of three, Kaleonani was brought to Johnny Lum Ho Hula Studio by her grandmother, Winona Kekela, a dear friend and fellow musician of Uncle Johnny and his sisters Aunty Margaret (Ma) Amana and Aunty Maile Lum Ho. She was trained under the direction of Uncle Johnny, Aunty Dee-dee Oda, and Aunty Toni (Amana) Chartrand, and loved learning the poi balls from Aunty Mae Amana.
After years of practices and Hawaiʻi County Fair hula competitions, at age 9, Kaleonani was blessed to be selected as a “Show Girl,” being able to perform at parties every weekend, on U.S. Independence and Constitution ships twice a week and traveling to different islands and the mainland for hula shows. She performed kahiko, ʻauana, aparima, ahuroa, otea, and poi balls during these many years of performances.
In 1991, at the age of 13, Kaleonani danced with her hālau hula for the first time in the Merrie Monarch Festival. In 1993, their group had the highest combined score earning the coveted Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy. She was blessed to dance in a total of 7 Merrie Monarch hula competitions with Hālau o Ka Ua Kani Lehua.
During her years as an ʻōpio, Uncle Johnny would have the girls sing some of the songs they danced and discovered that Kaleonani really lived up to her name which means “beautiful voice.” He began to train her along with some of his other very talented and reknown students like Kuana Torres Kahele, Napua Greig, Kaulana Pakele, and Mark Yamanaka. She sang and played the ʻukulele at shows and events with amazing musicians like Uncle Darren Benitez, Uncle Bert Naihe, Uncle Eddie Atkins, Uncle Kawelo KongKee, and Kehau Tamure.
In late 1995, Kaleonani remembers the day she was asked by Uncle Johnny to be his Miss Aloha Hula contestant. She said “You sure? What about the other girls?” And he continued to tell a story. “When you came to hula from when you was little, I would watch you, I always watched my dancers. You would come in and sit in the same spot all the time and not talk to anybody. And when it was time to line up, you wouldn’t stand in the front line, you would stand right behind the other girls. I knew you would be a good dancer.” That year she spent almost every day with Uncle Johnny preparing for the Merrie Monarch and became very close to him. Although she did not place that year, she remembers the outpouring aloha from the entire hula community for her and her hālau and was blessed to be invited to dance in the Japan Merrie Monarch festival while staying with Maria Nino, one of Uncle’s first Kumu Hula in Japan.
In the first year after graduating high school, Kaleo was honored to work for Uncle Johnny’s friends Tihati and Shaw Thompson at the Tihati Productions Princess Ka’iulani Hotel Polynesian show while attending college at UH Mānoa. There she enjoyed dancing and singing to various types of Polynesian dance, including Samoan and Maori. Kaleo studied ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi in college and also received a Master’s degree in Business Administration. One of the most memorable experiences was listening to the recordings of Uncle’s mother Grandma Lum Ho, Tūtū Mānoanoa, as she shared her many moʻolelo and pule.
In the years that followed, she became a mother and began raising her beautiful daughters. She continued to dance hula even when she was pregnant or while baby lay on a blanket next to her. Five of her daughters danced for Uncle Johnny’s hālau and her husband Keli’i was honored to be invited by Uncle to come play guitar but mostly just loved fellowshipping with him. Kaleonani would always be there with Uncle helping to sing and play ‘ukulele or helping to teach hula or dancing with the kūpuna or just talking stories. “Oh hi Kekelaniu,” he would say excitingly as she walked in. That was the nickname he chose for her which was the name of a good friend he grew up with in Keaukaha. “And - what is the news from the outside world?” he would always say.
The day that Kaleo received Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she called Uncle Johnny first to let him know she was born again. “Oh praise the Lord!” he exclaimed. This was the beginning of a special spiritual relationship that she and Uncle had until the day he went home to be with his Master. He would call her during the week to talk about what the Holy Spirit helped him with or to pray with him for someone in agreement. They went to eat together often at Ken’s House of Pancakes, and loved traveling to Japan together as they would get up early so Uncle could be first in line when the 6am buffet opened and he could get the best seat right next to the food.
What a blessing she had to sit next to one of the most talented visionaries in the history of Hawaiʻi and the most world-reknown kumu hula with so much wisdom and ʻike to share as he took the time to teach her how to compose mele, how to roll those fingers and hit that ipu just right, how to use the different parts of the pahu drum for the best effect during the chant, how to use his voice to sing loud to the heavens and then make his voice like his mother’s when she was mad, how hula always follows the music where every hula move and step matched perfectly to
every strum or beat.
Uncle always said “go teach, keep singing and playing, keep writing.” As Uncle Johnny rejoices in heaven with King Jesus, Kaleo will continue to preserve his love for God first and humbly be his pallbearer carrying on the legacy of the one and only Uncle Johnny Lum Ho for
“This Mele” will continue forever.