James Ka'upena Wong is known in Hawaii as a chanter, a "keeper of the word" and thus the language, but he also is recognized as a composer, instrumentalist, and tradition-bearer. His mother was an accomplished hula dancer and his father was a singer. Upon returning from college in 1959, Wong began a serious 12-year apprenticeship with master teacher (kumu) Mary Kawena Puku'i. Through this training, he learned the five primary styles of ancient poetic chant (mele kahiko). Wong also mastered the basic instruments accompanying chant and hula including the pahu (drum) and the 'ukeke (musical bow). He is one of the few masters of the full spectrum of ancient instruments, many of them rarely used today.
In 1964, Wong was invited to perform at the Newport Folk Festival in what is generally acknowledged as the first presentation of Hawaiian chant as an American folk tradition. He performed in 1969 in Washington, DC for the dedication of the statue of King Kamehameha I in Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol. Revered to this day as a teacher and mentor, Wong, along with Professor Barbara Smith, helped establish a program in Hawaiian chant and hula at the University of Hawaii, the first representation of Hawaiian culture in higher education in the state.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency
Sample: "Hula with ipu"
Sample: "Oli style"